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The Bible Story
Volume 6, Chapters 150-154
No Safety In Egypt
ISHMAEL and his ten men were attempting to herd a group of their Jewish countrymen to the land of the Ammonites. The captives had been forced to walk only a few miles when Johanan, a friend of the murdered governor of Judah, began to catch up with the mounted assassins and their prisoners.
Men Request God's Counsel
Ishmael realized that he would surely be overtaken by Johanan and his superior number of charging men. He suddenly decided to give up his captives and large supply of food and make a dash for safety. Without even taking time for any instructions to his men, he spurred his horse into a frantic gallop to the east.
Seeing their leader leaving, the other ten attempted to follow. Eight of them escaped Johanan's onslaught. The other two were left lifeless on the ground as the rescued captives were escorted back to Mizpah by Johanan and his men. Meanwhile, Ishmael and his eight remaining murderers rode on, eventually to report to King Baalis that the leadership of Judah had been destroyed.
There was a growing concern among the Jews over what would happen when Nebuchadnezzar learned that his puppet governor and several Babylonian representatives had been murdered. Johanan, especially, was worried.
"The king of Babylon will be so angry that he is likely to send his army to wipe out what little is left of Judah," Johanan told his men. "We wouldn't be safe in our own country. It might be wise for us to get out of Judah while there's still time."
"But where is there to go?" asked one. "To Egypt!" was Johanan's surprising answer. "The king there would probably help any he considers as being at odds with the Babylonians. Surely the Babylonians wouldn't go so far as to try to war against a powerful nation merely to avenge a few deaths."
Johanan's suggestion was spread swiftly among the Jews. But some of them, including Johanan, belatedly decided that it would be wise to try to find out what God's will was in the matter. To do this, they went to Jeremiah. The prophet had left Mizpah with the Jews because he wished to stay with the remnant of his people, and especially with King Zedekiah's daughters, who were his special charge. Jeremiah didn't think the time had come that they should leave their country.
"We can't decide whether to stay here and risk being killed by the Babylonians or give up our land and go to Egypt," they explained to the prophet. "We would be pleased if you would ask God what we should do."
"My God is your God," Jeremiah told them. "I will pray to Him. Whenever and whatever He answers, I'll report it to you."
"We will do whatever our God says," they promised Jeremiah. "We are anxious to obey His will." Most of the Jews expected to hear from the prophet almost right away, but it was ten days before he sent word for them to assemble for an answer. (Jeremiah 42:1-7.)
But Speedily Reject It
"Hear what our God has revealed!" the prophet called out to them. "He wants you to know that you should stay in your land. You who have homes in Mizpah should return there without fear of the Babylonians, whom God won't allow to harm you. Because you have looked to God for guidance, He will not punish you as most of your countrymen are being punished. As long as you remain in Judah, your numbers will increase and there will be plenty to live on. On the other hand, if you ignore God's advice and refuse His help by insisting on going to Egypt, you won't find safety there. Neither will you find enough to eat to keep you alive. If you aren't slaughtered by the sword or if you don't starve to death, you will die in Egypt by horrible diseases. You may leave here if you choose, but be warned that those who insist on going to Egypt will never return!" (Jeremiah 42:8-22.)
To learn that they could have God's protection without having to leave their homes and their nation should have been good news to the Jews. Their reaction, however, was anything but joyful. There was only an awkward silence. Most of them appeared uncomfortable. Some even scowled with obvious irritation.
"You should happily welcome God's promise to take care of you as long as you stay here in your country," the prophet continued. "It's easy to see that you aren't pleased. That's no surprise to me. You promised to go by what God directed, but you never intended to do so unless He approved of what you still plan to do, which is to go to Egypt. Idle curiosity was your only reason to ask me to contact God for you. And regardless of God's warning, you still believe that if you go to Egypt, you can come back any time you choose. That will be quite an accomplishment after you are corpses."
These were antagonizing words to the people, especially to Johanan, who had suggested that they go to Egypt, and to a man named Azariah, who was the one who had originally suggested the idea to Johanan. These two, followed by a group of leading men under them, strode up to Jeremiah.
"Why do you talk to us this way?" they loudly demanded. "God surely wouldn't forbid us to go to Egypt, yet you declare that He did! Isn't it a fact that your friend Baruch, who secretly wishes the Babylonians to destroy us, talked you into lying to us in this matter?"
"You are the ones who speak an untruth," Jeremiah contended. "Baruch, my secretary, has proved his loyalty to Judah by helping me declare God's warnings to our people."
"You and Baruch have been friendly with the Babylonians, and that's proof of why you don't fear them!" Azariah muttered.
"We're only wasting time talking!" someone shouted. "Let's get started so that we can reach Egypt before the Babylonians get here!"
There was much to be done, but before dawn the Jews were on their way, walking beside their burros or trudging under their own loads. As Jeremiah and Baruch stood gloomily watching the long line move by, Johanan and Azariah walked up to them.
"Aren't you taking any belongings with you?" Johanan asked them.
"We're not going," Jeremiah replied. "God has warned us to stay out of Egypt, and we intend to obey."
"And we don't intend to leave you behind!" Azariah snapped. "If you're important to God, surely He'll spare you wherever you are. And as long as you're with us, we can look forward to protection for all. I'll send some men with you to help you pick up your belongings."
Regardless of their firm intentions, the two had no choice but to join the exodus.
Warnings in Egypt
Journeying southwest past the south tip of Philistia and across the Shur desert in the upper part of the Sinai peninsula, the Jews came to the Egyptian city of Tahpanhes, about fifty miles east of the east mouth of the Nile River. There they stayed for a time, awaiting permission to go farther into the nation, which they weren't allowed to do unless and until they could prove they weren't enemies. (Jeremiah 43:1-7.)
While in Tahpanhes, where Egyptian workmen were building a summer house for the king, Jeremiah was told to again remind the Jews that being in Egypt would give them no safety. God instructed the prophet how to explain it to his countrymen. There was a brick kiln only a few yards from the nearly finished building. Choosing a time when many of the leading Jews were grouped together gazing at the new structure, and when workmen weren't present, Jeremiah and Baruch carried several heavy stones to the kiln and placed them in the clay.
"God wants me to tell you," Jeremiah explained, "that these same stones will soon be used on this very spot in building a foundation for a throne room for King Nebuchadnezzar." (Jeremiah 43:8-13.) "How ridiculous!" scoffed Azariah. "What would the king of Babylon be doing with a throne room in Egypt? Pharaoh wouldn't allow it to be built anywhere here, and certainly not right next to a house of his!" "Pharaoh won't have anything to say about it because the Babylonians are going to invade this nation," Jeremiah patiently continued. "They will kill many Egyptians. Many more will starve. Part of them will die of disease. Others will be taken captive. The Babylonians will burn the temples of the Egyptian idols, as well as the gods of wood. The idols will be smashed, and their gold taken to Babylon. Egypt's wealth will all be taken. Nebuchadnezzar will accomplish this as easily as a shepherd puts on his coat. The Egyptians won't have the strength to stop him. When he leaves at the time he chooses, he will have broken their will to fight.''
"I'm not convinced that you're right about coming here to Egypt," Johanan said in a low voice to Azariah. "If Jeremiah is a true prophet of God, we aren't going to have much of a future."
By this time part of the Babylonian army and its special captives, still in chains, had long since reached the city of Riblah in Syria, where King Nebuchadnezzar had temporarily retired after personally leading his army against Egypt and Judah. There, more than two hundred miles northeast of Jerusalem, Zedekiah, most of his family and officers were brought before Nebuchadnezzar, who eyed them critically. (Jeremiah 39:4-5 )
"That is Zedekiah, king of Judah," an aide informed the Babylonian king as guards brought Zedekiah out of the crowd of captives. For long, awkward moments Nebuchadnezzar stared at Zedekiah, who stood in discomfort and humiliation, which he now expected to be followed by death.
"Months ago I decided that you would pay with your life because of breaking your sworn allegiance to me," Nebuchadnezzar addressed Zedekiah. "Now that I see you, I'm going to change that decision and spare your life."
Zedekiah's hopes soared on hearing this, but before long he had reason to harbor much more hatred and fear of the Babylonian ruler. At a word from Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah and his sons were separated from the other captives and led outside to an enclosure.
"My king suggests that you carefully watch what is about to happen here," a Babylonian officer told Zedekiah. "It is the last event you will see."
The former king was puzzled by this ominous statement. Then, almost before he could realize what was going on, his sons were lined up and slaughtered by Babylonian soldiers. Even while Zedekiah stood gasping in horror, he was bound tightly to a post and his eyes brutally seared out by a hot iron.
Not long after this shocking event, Nebuchadnezzar started back to Babylon, about five hundred miles to the southeast. Zedekiah and the other captives, bound and guarded, had to make the long, rough trip by foot far behind the triumphant Babylonian king.
As soon as they arrived at Babylon, Zedekiah was imprisoned, where he later died. (Jeremiah 39:6-8.)
Many True Warnings
As God had repeatedly warned through prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and many others, Judah's idolatry resulted in a scattering of the people in almost the same way in which the Ten Tribes had been scattered about one hundred and thirty-three years previously. Rebellion against God had resulted in the shattering of both kingdoms, although Judah wasn't swallowed up and lost in surrounding nations as the Ten Tribes of Israel were. If these kingdoms had obeyed God, the people would have remained safe and prosperous in their own land. (Jeremiah 34.) Now the prisoners, slaves and outcasts learned that food and shelter were difficult to find. Meanwhile, the homes from which they had been driven were taken over by wild animals and their fields and orchards were choked with weeds and brush.
While two kings of Judah -- Jehoiachin and Zedekiah -- languished in Babylonian prison cells, many Jews captured previously by the Babylonians were living as exiles in colonies along the Chebar River about two hundred miles north of Babylon. Among these exiles was a young man named Ezekiel. (Ezekiel 1:1-3.) He had a most unusual vision in which he was told by God to tell his people, who still followed idolatry, that they should give up the worship of false gods and turn to the only true God or suffer even greater miseries than they had gone through.
Ezekiel obeyed, but few paid much attention to him. Along with his strong warnings from God, he made many predictions that paralleled some made by Jeremiah. He even foretold Zedekiah's attempted escape from the Babylonians at Jerusalem, and about his loss of sight and being brought to Babylon. (Ezekiel 12:10-13.) Even after Ezekiel's countrymen along the Chebar River heard that these things had come about just as Ezekiel said they would, most of them doubted that God had chosen him to be a prophet. This was as God told Ezekiel it would be. Nevertheless, because he was obedient and had a special concern for the exiles, the prophet faithfully continued to repeat God's warnings and prophecies to the people.
So did Jeremiah. Before the fall of Jerusalem, he wrote letters to the people Ezekiel was with, encouraging them to keep up their family lives and look forward to a time when their children could return to their homeland after the Babylonians would fall from power. (Jeremiah 29:132.)
Ezekiel predicted many things, including the victorious invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 32:1-18) and the fate of the Jews who had gone there contrary to God's warning through Jeremiah. Meanwhile, Ezekiel married and established a home in one of the Jewish communities north of Babylon. Although the Jews generally ignored his prophecies and admonitions, they had unusual respect for him and often came to him for advice. In spite of their stubbornness in ignoring many of the warnings he passed on from God, they believed that God had endowed him with good judgment and the power to foresee the future.
Ezekiel was meant to be more than a prophet to the Jews. He kept the people informed and comforted, and he encouraged all who sought wisdom and tried to forsake their wrong ways. Many of them, naturally, failed to appreciate what he did for them for twenty-two years. Little did they guess that his writings, many of which were quite puzzling, would eventually be read all over the world for centuries and be interpreted in many different ways, mostly erroneous.
One of the things Ezekiel wrote about had to do with the future of Israel after the Messiah's second coming to earth from heaven. (Ezekiel 36.) Another matter, among many others, was how people would be resurrected and what tomorrow's world would be like when David would again rule Israel and all the nations of the earth under the Messiah. (Ezekiel 37.)
Inasmuch as both Ezekiel and Jeremiah were inspired by God, their prophecies agreed, proving that they were indeed the Creator's true servants. Among the subjects in which they both spoke was the prediction that God would certainly provide a successor to the throne Zedekiah had lost. God had already promised David that He would forever establish David's kingdom, but one might wonder how that would be accomplished after the murder of Zedekiah's sons and later the death of Zedekiah.
At that time Jehoiachin, former king of Judah who had been taken captive by the Babylonians, was still alive but was spending his time in a Babylonian dungeon. He had sons who were of the royal line, but they were prisoners and none of them while in prison could become king of a nation that had ceased to exist. After its restoration, one of Jehoiachin's grandsons was made governor by the king of Persia, but he was never crowned king. There were indeed men of the royal line who were qualified to become king decades later at Jerusalem, but that didn't happen, because it wasn't according to God's plan. God had decreed that his line would never again sit in Judah on the throne of David. (Jeremiah 22:24-30.)
Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel stated that the throne would be established elsewhere. (Jeremiah 21:11-12; Ezekiel 17:1-6, 22-24.) They also foretold the invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar, to occur a few years after the fall of Jerusalem. By that time, the Jews were scattered throughout Egypt. As might be expected, many of them fell in with worshipping Egyptian idols. That danger was one of the reasons God had told them not to leave Judah.
Jeremiah was still warning his people that if they continued in any kind of idolatry they would be killed or captured when Nebuchadnezzar would surely come to overrun Egypt. (Jeremiah 44:1-30.) Most of the Jews still believed that the prophet was somehow in league with the Babylonians, and didn't take him seriously. A few, including Baruch and the daughters of Zedekiah, regarded Jeremiah as God's spokesman and their leader and remained faithful to God.
It was a fearful shock to those who disdained Jeremiah when they learned that the Babylonian army was indeed moving into Egypt!
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David's Throne Re-Established
THE ARRIVAL of Nebuchadnezzar's army at Egypt's northeastern border was perhaps even more dismaying to the self-exiled Jews than it was to the Egyptians. They began to realize that what the prophet Jeremiah had told them would happen really would happen. (Jeremiah 44:24-30; 46:13-26.) Having treated God's prophet without respect, they now began to fear both God and the Babylonians.
No Safety in Egypt
The arrival of the invaders at this time was due to unusual circumstances in Egypt, as reported in ancient histories. For a long time the citizens had been increasingly unhappy with their ruler, Pharaoh Apries. When Apries learned that his people were on the verge of a national revolution, he sent one of his generals, Amasis, on a tour of the nation to try to calm the people down with so-called goodwill speeches intended to paint Pharaoh as a ruler they should learn to appreciate.
To the surprise of both Pharaoh and Amasis, the citizens were so impressed by Amasis' oratory and manner that a large crowd of them forcibly insisted that Amasis become their leader and seize the throne from Apries. Amasis couldn't resist this doubtful opportunity to become the ruler of a powerful nation. He became the champion of the revolution.
Apries organized enough of an army to make a feeble attempt against Amasis' army, but he was defeated in an initial battle.
News of this came to Nebuchadnezzar, who decided that this was the opportune time to invade Egypt, and punish the nation for its many attempts to bring Judah into rebellion against the Babylonians.
Nebuchadnezzar picked his time well. Even Pharaoh's army rebelled and refused to fight for him. Within days Egypt fell victim to the Babylonians and Apries was killed. Nebuchadnezzar naturally proclaimed Amasis as the new ruler and returned to Babylon. He took most of the Jews and many Egyptians with him. Thus more of Jeremiah's prophecies were carried out, including the one that Nebuchadnezzar would overcome Egypt as easily as a shepherd puts on his coat. (Jeremiah 43:8-12.)
Before the Babylonians started rounding up their captives, Jeremiah and Baruch safeguarded Zedekiah's daughters and a few loyal Jews who had been taken into Egypt against their will. All were miraculously spared by the invaders. All other Jews were killed or captured and herded off toward Babylon. The hopeless captives miserably remembered that Jeremiah had told them they would deeply regret leaving their land against God's instruction.
The Babylonians departed with their spoils and apparently took Jeremiah and his little group with them. A few days later they arrived in Judah but not to stay long in a place that had become so utterly desolate. Ravaged cities had turned into the habitations of animals and birds. Fields and orchards were full of weeds.
Royal Family Transplanted
Jeremiah and his little band might well have survived there, but God had instructed the prophet to take Baruch and Zedekiah's daughters and go elsewhere. Jeremiah obeyed God and, taking leave of Nebuchadnezzar's army, led Baruch and Zedekiah's daughters to a seaport on the Great Sea, possibly Joppa. There they embarked on a sailing ship to the far country of Spain, about two thousand miles to the west. Irish and Celtic-European annals have preserved the record that a young Irish prince, who was in Jerusalem when the city was taken, stayed with Jeremiah in all these travels and married one of the Jewish princesses in Jeremiah's care.
To learn where Jeremiah and his companions went after going to Spain, it's necessary to flash back almost twelve centuries to the time of Judah. Judah, remember, was the father of the Jews, one tribe among the twelve tribes of Israel. Through that small part of Israel God planned to carry on the "scepter," or reigning line of His chosen people (Genesis 49:10).
But the birthright line of Israel was given to Ephraim and Manasseh. (I Chronicles 5:1, 2.) These latter two tribes and their descendants by the millions were to receive the material blessings promised because Abraham had obeyed God, even to the extent of being willing to sacrifice his only son. (Genesis 26:1-5.)
Judah, one of Abraham's great-grandsons, was the father of twin sons, Zarah and Pharez. Just before they were delivered, when the midwife realized there were twins, she was especially careful to note which would be born first. That one would be the royal seed through whom the reigning line, or "scepter," would be carried on.
As it happened, a hand emerged first, whereupon the midwife tied a red thread around the little wrist to show which child was the first to start from the mother. However, that baby drew its hand back and the other twin emerged. (Genesis 38:27-30.) Zarah, with the red thread around one wrist, was rightfully first from his mother, but only in part.
The other child, Pharez, was the one through whom the reigning line in Judah was first passed on, though generations later God combined it with the line of Zarah. David, Zedekiah and Christ were of the Pharez line. But Zedekiah's daughter was destined to marry into the Zarah line.
God used the prophet Jeremiah in re-establishing the throne of David by sending him and his group by ship via Spain to the island known later as "Ireland".
There, long before King David's time, a colony of Israelites called the "Tuatha De Danaan" arrived and subdued the people called "Firbolgs" who had inhabited the island before them and ruled for hundreds of years. Later more Israelites, called "Milesians," arrived from Scythia, this time of the line of Zarah. One of Zedekiah's daughters who came with Jeremiah married a prince who was a descendant of Zarah. This prince became king at his father's death. Inasmuch as his wife was a princess of the Pharez line, the Pharez and Zarah lines were united and David's throne was re-established in Ireland to continue as God promised.
People of Israel Relocated
There are many detailed facts about this fascinating matter. Most of them have been uncovered in the last few decades along with surprising revelation of what happened to the supposedly "Lost Ten Tribes" of Israel, an absorbing story in itself. Jeremiah and Ezekiel had much to say about it, but the key to understanding much of what these two prophets wrote about is to realize that the Jews were not included in the ten-tribed House of Israel, although the Jews were Israelites.
Ezekiel wrote that Zedekiah's throne would be overturned three times. (Ezekiel 21:25-27.) The first overturn was accomplished when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Israelite prince who married one of Zedekiah's daughters became king, and the throne was transplanted thousands of miles away. The dynasty that resulted lasted down through many generations in Ireland.
Eventually, the throne was overturned a second time when it was removed from Ireland and established in Scotland. The third overturn was much later when it was removed by Edward I to London, where it exists today. As this is written, Queen Elizabeth II occupies the throne that came down all the way from King David! Christ will occupy that same throne after the third prophesied overturn and its final re-establishment in Jerusalem.
While the seat of Israelite rulership was being changed from place to place, more and more Israelites were migrating to Europe. Having escaped over the centuries from their Assyrian captors, in the area of the Black Sea, they moved northward and westward to flourish in many regions -- even across the Atlantic Ocean to North America, where their numbers compounded.
God's promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were steadily carried out, insomuch that the descendants of Ephraim under the rule of Davidic kings became large, wealthy and powerful, culminating in the British Empire and the Commonwealth. The descendants of Manasseh developed into the most powerful single nation on earth -- the United States in North America. Both fulfilled the prophecy of Israel, their father. (Genesis 48:14-20.)
Careful study of the Bible and history together shows that descendants of the tribe of Manasseh, the elder son of Joseph, are the principal inhabitants of the United States. But most Bible scholars refuse to accept this fact.
Most of the people of the British Commonwealth are descended from the tribe of Ephraim, the youngest son of Joseph. In both nations are also people of many lands who have come to share in the wealth and freedom. Relatively few citizens of both nations know themselves to be Israelites, although it was a fairly common belief a few centuries ago. Today most consider themselves Gentiles.
This error makes understanding Bible prophecy almost impossible for them. It's a matter of God giving special understanding to those who choose to be obedient to His laws. Most refuse to recognize the vital importance of these permanently living laws because they consider them "Jewish" and assume they were discarded and cancelled by Christ.
The Seventy Years' Captivity
About the time Jeremiah was still trying to convince Judah to shun any alliance with the Egyptians, there was living in the Babylonian capital a young lad named Daniel. Daniel had been taken captive from Judah in the time of King Jehoiakim. Many other Jews shared Daniel's circumstances, in which their captors sought to determine which of the captives could be of the most value in contributing to a superior culture.
Nebuchadnezzar's nobles were particularly pleased with Daniel's abilities, given to him because God had long since chosen him to be a prophet and to find favor with his captors. With three other young princes who also proved to be unusually intelligent, Daniel went through a three-year period of intensive training in the knowledge of Babylonia's most learned men. (Daniel 1:1-7.)
Because Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azaraiah had grown up as followers of God, even when almost all the rest of the royal family were turning against God, they weren't swayed by the pagan philosophy of the Babylonians. Of course, their instructors naturally hoped and tried to influence their religious beliefs.
Their names were changed. Daniel was to be known as "Belteshazzar"; Hananiah was altered to "Shadrach"; Mishael was given the name of "Meshach"; Azariah was renamed "Abed-nego." Their original names had to do with God, whereas their new names had pagan meanings. When the period of instruction was at an end, these four close friends stood out as the topmost among the trainees.
It was the custom that the same kind of food that was served at the king's table was also served to the youths in special training. This meant that unclean foods and such as were previously offered to idols would often be brought to the young men. The four friends agreed that they wouldn't follow such a diet but would remain faithful to God and be at their best physically and mentally. (Leviticus 3:17; 7:22-27; 11:1-47.)
"We must take a stand on this matter," Daniel observed. "Even if meat hasn't been offered to idols, we can't know if it has been properly drained of blood, which we know should not be eaten. As for liquids, we're given more wine than water. If we continue this way, we'll make little headway. We'll have to try to have our food changed."
The next time Melzar, the man in charge of them, came to bring scrolls to study, Daniel diplomatically reminded him that they were there for the purpose of developing physically and mentally but that they couldn't make much progress if they ate food prepared mainly for epicurean appetites and not necessarily for nourishment.
"But Nebuchadnezzar himself chooses what you should eat," Daniel's overseer informed him. "He eats the same kinds of food, and he is convinced that it is the best food available anywhere. Perhaps you don't appreciate this rare and costly fare because you don't know that much of it comes from distant lands, even at the expense of human lives. You four fellows didn't eat the oysters that were brought at great expense all the way from the Persian Gulf. And you didn't touch the special stew made of squirrels brought from the mountains. Nor the exquisite papyrus wine from Egypt. And you didn't even taste the...."
"We truly appreciate being offered these specialties," Daniel interrupted. "My point is that the health-giving qualities of food are more important than unusual flavors and costliness. We can't speak for others of our countrymen in training, but we prefer cereal grains, vegetables and water for the time of our training."
Melzar stared in disbelief. "You'd soon starve on only those things!" he exclaimed impatiently. "My superiors would demand to know why you had become so thin and weak. If they found out how poorly I had been feeding you, Nebuchadnezzar would have me beheaded!"
"I assure you we would never starve," Daniel told Melzar. "If you could manage to provide us with only vegetables, cereal grains and water for the next ten days, we'll prove to you that we'll be healthier than the men who gorge themselves with the king's favorite foods."
Melzar blinked worriedly, unable to understand that Daniel's simple choice of food and drink could do anything but enfeeble the four young men. (Daniel 1:8-13.)
"At the risk of losing my life, I'll do as you ask for ten days at the most," Melzar reluctantly agreed. "Meanwhile, if I notice that you are failing, I'll start giving you only the richest foods to build you back up before your lack of nourishment is discovered."
For the full ten days Melzar managed to bring Daniel and his companions the food they wanted. Even in that short time the four youths developed a healthier appearance than that of the other trainees who ate unclean meats and drank so much wine. Melzar was amazed. (Daniel 1:8-16.) Of course, he didn't understand that the God of Israel had a hand in the matter because the four young Jewish men were obedient to Him in the matter of avoiding food that was unclean in the Creator's sight.
At the same time, because of that obedience, God gave them special wisdom and good judgment. Added to that, Daniel was given unusual understanding in interpreting visions and dreams. This ISN'T to say that Daniel was a psychiatrist. Visions and dreams by certain people sometimes have special meanings from God. Daniel was given the ability to know if visions and dreams had important meanings and what those meanings were. With God's help, he had a great advantage over "wise" men and magicians, who often were influenced by demons.
At the end of the three years of training, Daniel and his three close friends were adjudged the healthiest and most learned and intelligent of all the trainees. Nebuchadnezzar himself tested their knowledge and decided that they were far more mentally keen than any of the others whom the Babylonians had chosen to train. (Daniel 1:17-20.)
Not long after this happened, the king of Babylon had a dream that greatly troubled him because it was so sharp and clear at the time and seemed to have strong bearing on the future. By the next morning, as dreams usually do, it had mostly faded from remembrance. Still it bothered him. He called in his magicians, astrologers and Chaldean philosophers, hoping that there was someone among all these who could tell him the meaning of his unusual dream.
"May you live forever," these men gravely and dutifully announced, according to the manner of greeting a king in those times. "We understand that you have had a very unusual dream whose meaning you would like to know. Tell us about it, and we shall interpret it for you." (Daniel 2:-1-4.)
"I can't tell you about the dream because it has gone from my mind," Nebuchadnezzar explained. "You will have to use your powers to find out what the dream was about as well as its meaning. If you fail, you will be put to death and your homes will be knocked down and used as places for manure piles."
This chilling statement brought deep fear into the so-called "wise" men. Every one of them knew he was incapable of knowing or even guessing what the king's dream was about, unless possibly with the help of demons. But it was their job to try to create the impression that they had supernatural knowledge and powers.
"On the other hand," continued Nebuchadnezzar, "anyone who is able to tell me my dream and the meaning of it shall be highly rewarded and honored. Now speak out. Your lives depend on what you have to say!" (Daniel 2:5-9.)
There was a hurried, hushed consultation of the astrologers, magicians and philosophers while Nebuchadnezzar looked on impatiently. At last the group broke up. A spokesman approached the king, bowing low and smiling hopefully.
"Please try to remember what you dreamed, O mighty ruler," he begged. "Then we will tell you what the dream means."
"I've already told you that I've forgotten!" Nebuchadnezzar snapped. "It's obvious that you're all stalling because you don't know what to say! It's also obvious that you got your heads together just now to agree on some kind of lie!"
"I humbly remind you, sire, that your request is most unusual," the spokesman hesitantly mumbled. "No man, not even an astrologer, magician or philosopher, should reasonably be expected to have an answer to such a difficult question. Only the gods are capable of knowing such things and they rarely communicate with man."
Of course, this was quite the wrong thing to say to Nebuchadnezzar. It was an act of desperation, done with the hope that the king would appreciate a frank approach and would reconsider his drastic threats of punishment. It didn't turn out that way.
"Out!" Nebuchadnezzar bellowed. "I want all of you out of my palace immediately! All sorcerers, magicians, philosophers and astrologers are to die!"
Unhappily, this included Daniel and his three close friends.
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Adviser To Nebuchadnezzar Angered
BECAUSE the so-called "wise" men of Babylon failed to guess the content of the dream he had forgotten, King Nebuchadnezzar rashly ordered all of Babylon's magicians, sorcerers and philosophers to be slain.
The king even included the top scholars who had been rigorously educated over a period of three years. That meant that Daniel and his three close friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, were on the list to be executed, even though they hadn't been among those summoned to tell and interpret the king's dream. (Daniel 2:1-13.)
Daniel's Bold Chance
Daniel was naturally quite startled and dismayed when he was approached by Arioch, the captain of the king's guard, and was told that he and his three friends were to be taken to prison for execution because no one was wise enough to tell and explain Nebuchadnezzar's dream.
"This is incredible!" Daniel exclaimed. "We had no part in failing the king. If he had called on us to help, we would have given him the answers. If he still wants to know them and has the patience to postpone the executions he has ordered, I will make the matter known to him."
Arioch stared at Daniel, thankful that there might be a reason for Nebuchadnezzar to cancel or at least postpone the executions, which the captain of the guard deplored.
"If you can explain the king's dream, I'll take you to him," Arioch declared. "Meanwhile, I'll postpone your friends' arrest as long as I can."
Arioch then hastened to see the king, but soon returned to Daniel and told him:
"Nebuchadnezzar wants you to carry out your claim to tell and interpret his dream," Arioch told Daniel. "He promised that he would hold off the executions until he hears what you have to say. Frankly, he doubts your ability. His anger will mount even higher if you fail!"
A little later Daniel stood before Nebuchadnezzar, who eyed him critically.
"This is the young man of the captives of Judah who can tell you about your dream," Arioch nervously introduced Daniel.
"Then tell me now!" the Babylonian king commanded, staring at Daniel. "If you fail, many heads will roll before this day is over!"
"But God hasn't yet told me about your dream," Daniel told the king. "I'll need time to contact Him."
"I'll give you one day," the king promised. (Daniel 2:14-16.)
Daniel went immediately to his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, to tell them what had happened. He requested that they ask God to reveal Nebuchadnezzar's dream and its meaning so that they and all the others would be spared from execution.
The four men prayed fervently about the matter. God answered by causing Daniel to dream a very clear dream revealing the one that Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten and its meaning. Daniel was so thankful that he gave a special prayer of praise for their deliverance, though the four young Jews and the Babylonian "wise" men were still subject to death. Then Daniel hurried to Arioch, who was anxious to see him. Arioch took him directly to Nebuchadnezzar.
"The men you summoned to tell and interpret your dream were given an impossible task," Daniel began, noting that the king was visibly irritated by those first few words. "The task was impossible because they didn't have the help of the God of Israel, who wishes to make known to the king of Babylon what will happen in the future. Your dream and its meaning haven't come to me through any special ability of my own, but only because my God has made these things known to me to pass on to you for your special benefit." (Daniel 2:17-28.)
Nebuchadnezzar Needs Daniel
"Then if you have this special knowledge from your God, disclose it!" Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed impatiently, leaning forward in expectation.
"You dreamed that there was a colossal human image before you," Daniel began. "It was bright and terrible. His head appeared to be made of polished gold. His chest and arms were like silver, his belly and thighs of brass, his legs of iron and his feet part of iron and part of clay."
Nebuchadnezzar's glum expression abruptly turned to one of intense interest.
"That was what I dreamed about!" he interrupted, getting to his feet. "Now I remember! Then something happened to the image, but I don't recall what it was."
"You dreamed that a large stone, symmetrical, yet uncut by human hands, fell from the sky and crashed with great impact on the feet of the image," Daniel continued. "It shattered the feet and pulverized the legs of iron. Then the thighs and belly of brass crumbled under the impact; the chest and arms of silver fell apart and the head of gold toppled over to smash into tiny fragments. A strong wind came up to blow away the pulverized pieces of the fallen image as though they were chaff from a threshing floor. Meanwhile, the stone that struck the image became larger and larger until it became a gigantic mountain that filled the whole earth." (Daniel 2:29-35.)
"That's exactly what I dreamed!" Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed. "I forgot it, even though it was clear at the time. It bothered me afterward because I believed it had some special meaning."
"Indeed it does," Daniel agreed. "The God of Israel wants you to know that He has given you your great power so that you are above all other rulers in the world. You have been given power over most men and your power extends even to the animals in the world because man is ruler over them. The head of gold on the image you dreamed about refers to you and your powerful kingdom. As the most powerful king in the world at this time, it is fitting, according to the Eternal God's wish, that you should know what the future holds. That was the reason for the dream you were given.
"The chest and arms of silver mean that another kingdom, inferior to yours, will rise to power after your nation declines in strength. The belly and thighs of brass indicate that a third kingdom will replace the second kingdom in strength, and it will have rulership over other nations. The legs of iron mean that a fourth strong kingdom will eventually follow, but because iron and clay can't be fused together for lasting strength, that kingdom won't be well united.
"During the lifetime of that kingdom, the one and only true God will set up a Kingdom that will replace all others and last forever. In your dream His Kingdom was the stone that struck the image on the feet, smashing the whole body, and growing swiftly into a mountain that encompassed the entire world. Now you know what will come to pass. This knowledge has come to me from my God, who is incapable of any untruth." (Daniel 2:36-45; Titus 1:2.)
Nebuchadnezzar was so impressed that he humbly prostrated himself before Daniel in a sincere, but awkward, attempt in the worship of God by bowing to a servant of God.
"The best way to worship God is to obey Him," Daniel pointed out. "Then you will receive the blessings and protection that can't possibly come from any other source."
Daniel's strong advice didn't dampen the king's enthusiasm. He loudly declared to all present that Daniel's God was the God of gods and the Head of all kings, and he made it known that he wanted the fact published abroad. Furthermore, he heaped gifts on Daniel and made him chief of the governors of the "wise" men of Babylon, an office of doubtful importance in Daniel's estimation.
On the more practical side, Daniel was made ruler of the province of Babylon, the city-state capital of Babylonia, where he would be one of the king's chief officials. Because Daniel's three close Jewish friends had great ability and knowledge and had helped him with their prayers, Daniel suggested that they also be given high positions. Nebuchadnezzar was pleased to place Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego (Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah) in offices of high rank under Daniel in the province of Babylon. (Daniel 2:46-49.)
Nebuchadnezzar's recognition of God's greatness was a step in the right direction, but he still had a long way to go. The more Nebuchadnezzar thought about his power, the more he thought all the world's leaders should pay special honor to his kingdom. So he made plans for building a high statue. It was built on the Babylonian plain of Dura so that it could be surrounded by great throngs of people. Including the pedestal, the image towered nearly a hundred feet above the plain. On a sunny day its bright and shimmering golden surface could be seen from many miles away.
The king went to great lengths to inform people about the image. Dedication ceremonies were announced. Important men of Babylonia were commanded to be present. Those included princes, governors, high army officers and all high government officials. (Daniel 3:1-3.)
On the chosen day of the dedication, a vast crowd assembled around the towering figure. The commanded dignitaries included only a small fraction of the throng, made up mostly of thousands of average Babylonians and many people of surrounding satellite nations. Some came merely from curiosity. Others felt it necessary to be present at an unusual event during which a king's idol would be dedicated.
There was the usual activity and excitement in a large crowd of those times. Following the throngs of people were yelling peddlers with carts or shoulder bags of food. Other hawkers worked slyly to extract money from parents by promoting cheap merchandise made to appeal especially to small children. It was as good a day for thieves and pickpockets as it was a miserable day for mothers, who had no place to take their whimpering, bawling, needful offspring.
About noon heralds appeared on the base of the gold-plated image. There was much raucous hornblowing to get the attention of the people. After ceremonies of a shallow nature, there was an announcement by a person with an exceptionally powerful voice.
"Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon and king over kings everywhere, wants you to know what is required of you who hear these words," the herald bellowed. "When you hear music from the orchestra that will soon play from the base of this pedestal, every one of you is to bow before this great image! Any who fail or refuse to do so will be seized by the king's guards and thrown into a large, roaring furnace prepared especially for criminals and those who fail to conform to the king's will!"
People hadn't expected to hear anything like this. Most of them had their favorite idols, toward which they had varying degrees of loyalty. But because it was the custom to worship more than one idol -- inasmuch as each was believed to give his special benefits -- the edict from the herald posed no great problem for most of the hearers. And the special benefit of worshipping Nebuchadnezzar's idol was very plain. It was the difference between living or being burned to death!
When the large orchestra by the pedestal broke out into strains of music in the minor key, the crowd went to its knees. Many tried to demonstrate special deep humility by dropping their foreheads to the soil, hoping that these extreme actions would somehow win them special favor. (Daniel 3:4-7.)
Acres of bowed human backs shone in the noonday sun. Some who didn't understand, such as small children, remained standing or simply sat down. (It must have been difficult for Nebuchadnezzar's guards to decide who the disobedient were, especially since they, too, had their foreheads pressed to the ground.) As for Daniel and his three close friends, they simply waited for the music finally to end and signal the close of the period of worship.
Nebuchadnezzar was pleased with the way matters turned out. He was even exuberant -- until some high-ranking Babylonians appeared before him to flatter him on his efforts to launch a new deity and then to inform him that there were those in his own government who had deliberately refused to bow down before his image.
"There must be some mistake," the king smiled indulgently, looking away to show indifference. "No sane, responsible person in my organization would dare defy my orders."
"The three foreigners, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego certainly did!" the envious Babylonians quickly informed him. Besides refusing to bow when they were told to yesterday, we happen to know that they've never paid respect to any of our gods! You have shown respect for their God. Should they not show deference for at least one of yours?" (Daniel 3:8-12.)
"I'll take care of the matter," the king muttered, irritably waving his informers away.
They triumphantly departed, convinced that action would be taken against the three Jews. They had carefully omitted Daniel from the charges because they knew that the king regarded him so highly that speaking against him might bring down royal wrath on their heads.
Nebuchadnezzar wasn't used to being disobeyed. The mere thought of anyone ignoring his wishes gave him great displeasure. So he called for Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. By the time they had been brought before him, the king had developed his anger into full bloom.
"I have been told that you, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, failed to bow before my golden image," the king declared testily. "I have also been told that in all the years you have enjoyed the good things of my kingdom you have never shown your appreciation by thanking any of my gods. Are these things true?"
"They are," one of them answered. "We are thankful for many things, but we thank and worship only the one true God, the God of Israel."
Previously, Nebuchadnezzar had threatened to have anyone hacked into pieces who refused to regard the God of Israel as God above all gods. But the men's answer so infuriated him that he lost all regard he might have had for God.
"You were told that any who refused to bow down to my golden image would be thrown into a hot furnace!" the king shouted. "That's where you're going from here! Who is the God who is going to step in and save you from THAT?"
"Our God is able to!" they answered. "But whether or not He chooses to save us, we have no intention of worshipping other gods or bowing down before that lifeless image you have set up!" (Daniel 3:13-18.)
"Get men in here at once to bind these three!" Nebuchadnezzar bellowed, his face livid with rage. "And go tell the furnace foreman to get the furnace as hot as he can possibly get it!"
Servants scrambled to obey. Moments later powerful soldiers strode into the room to roughly seize and tie up the three Jews, who were soon prone and helpless on the floor.
"Now drag these infidels to the furnace and shove them into it when it's at its hottest!" the king roared.
Strong arms pulled Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah across the floor, down stone steps and through the courtyard. A little later at the smokebelching furnace, they were propped up so that they could watch men feverishly tossing large pieces of pitchy wood into the massive metal and stone firebox, which began to glow dully when the roaring flames from the crackling wood were at their hottest. Great surges of searing heat billowed forth, reddening the skin of the stokers.
Nebuchadnezzar was on hand to gloat over the event, as were the informers who had started it. While the heat was increasing, so was the crowd of curious, morbid onlookers. Some ventured so close to the furnace door that they were scorched by bursts of heat, and they ran howling for safety.
At a signal from the king, the three victims were grabbed by the men who had tied them and dragged them as close to the furnace door as their handlers could stand to go. They were then tossed through the door into the raging flames. (Daniel 3:19-23.)
This was the last act of the soldiers. Tongues of flame leaped at them. They collapsed the next instant and fell to the ground. Their clothing and skin broke into flames. They burned to death in the torrid gusts of air outside the range of the huge flames. None dared risk his life in an attempt to rescue them.
King Nebuchadnezzar quickly turned his glance back to the bottom of the flaming pit. What he saw shocked him. Never in his life had he seen such a thing.
Bible Story Book Index
Nebuchadnezzar Goes Insane
SHADRACH Meshach and Abed-nego (whose Jewish names were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah) had just been thrown into the special, great furnace in Babylon because of their refusal to worship King Nebuchadnezzar's golden image. (Daniel 3:1-20.)
God Rules Furnaces, Too!
The king was disappointed in the satisfaction he imagined he would receive by seeing the three Jews consumed by the flames. To start, they had spoiled his sadistic fun by failing to scream for mercy. On top of that, he had lost some of his best soldiers, famous in his kingdom for their physical strength, when they burned to death upon hurling the Jews into the furnace.
"If only I could see their ashy, scorched skeletons lying in there in the embers," Nebuchadnezzar thought.
By now the horrible heat of the giant furnace was diminishing, as no further fuel had been added. Morbidly curious to learn if anything could be seen through the wide furnace door, the king inched forward as close as the heat would allow him, and stared inside.
It was almost impossible, through the eyeball-drying, torrid gusts, to make out the heat-distorted embers glowing in a blinding fusion, but for some reason the king stood resolutely against the heat, his attention riveted by something unusual.
"Weren't there only three men thrown into the furnace?" Nebuchadnezzar asked, blinking in bewilderment and pain.
"That's right," aides answered. "But I can make out four people in there!" the king exclaimed excitedly. "And they're walking around!"
"The heat distorts things and makes them unrecognizable," the aides answered concernedly. "You should leave this place now, sire, and return to the comforts of your palace!"
"Don't try to cause me to lose sight of what I'm seeing!" Nebuchadnezzar snapped angrily, carefully backing up a few steps. "I tell you I see four men walking around in there as easily and calmly as I would walk around in my palace! And the appearance of the fourth one is similar to a Son of God! Look in there for yourselves!" (Daniel 3:21-25.)
The king's nearest aides, along with many bystanders, carefully peered at where Nebuchadnezzar's excited finger was pointing.
"I see them! I see them!" several people started loudly exclaiming at once.
As more and more bystanders witnessed the miraculous scene of men walking about in a sea of withering flame, gasps of disbelief and even cheers filled the air. The most moved and enthusiastic witness was the king himself.
"Come out, come out, you servants of the Most High!" Nebuchadnezzar yelled, wildly waving his arms.
There were more gasps of surprise and wonder as the three men obediently strode out of the furnace door and walked up to Nebuchadnezzar. The king stared in wonderment, noting that the hair and clothing of the victims hadn't been touched by the flames. Nor was there even the smell of smoke on them. High-ranking Babylonians crowded around to gaze in disbelief, but none were more amazed and impressed than Nebuchadnezzar.
Praise for God -- But No Repentance!
"The God of these men has shown His great power!" the king of Babylon loudly announced to all who stood about. "The God of the Jews is so powerful that He has swept aside my decree that all people should worship my golden image! Therefore I now decree that all people over whom I have dominion must show respect to the God of these men above any other god! Any who refuse to worship Him or speak against Him shall be hacked into small pieces and their homes shall be turned into dumps for barnyard refuse!" But Nebuchadnezzar was still far from repentant.
With this the three Jews were swiftly escorted to comfortable quarters, but only after Nebuchadnezzar had satisfied his curiosity about the fourth person he had seen in the furnace.
"But what happened to the fourth person who was with you?" Nebuchadnezzar asked. "Where did he go?" "He returned to the throne of our God," was their general reply.
Following their trial of faith in the furnace, God blessed Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego for their obedience, and they were promoted to even higher positions of importance under Daniel in Nebuchadnezzar's powerful and growing kingdom. The incident greatly altered the king's attitude for the better, but he had still much to learn about how great God really is. (Daniel 3:26-30.)
He also had much to learn about how insignificant he really was compared to God, even though he was the head of the most powerful nation on earth. Nebuchadnezzar had such a consuming awareness of his power and possessions that his mind was obsessed with it.
Long before that, Daniel had reminded him that these things had come only through God's hand, and that God could take them back at any time. The king of Babylon could only conclude that he must be a very special person in God's sight to be given such special things.
"If I'm a person distinctive enough for all I've accomplished and accumulated, then I'm too distinctive to be deprived of it," Nebuchadnezzar mused.
Little was he aware of what was soon to happen to him because of his egotistic overconfidence in himself. One night he dreamed an unusual dream that troubled him so much that he decided to call before him those who were supposed to have special knowledge in such matters, so that he could determine the meaning of the dream from them. Thus, on a certain day, the king's throne room was jammed with magicians, astrologers, and prognosticators, all anxious to please Nebuchadnezzar and receive his rich reward.
"Listen carefully while I relate to you my strange dream," the king addressed them. "Afterward I don't want to be bothered by anyone who is merely guessing at the meaning of the dream. I want a sensible explanation, and I shall deal harshly with anyone who dares take up my time with ridiculous remarks and shallow philosophizing.
"I dreamed that I was standing in a wide expanse of open country, where there was a great tree. The tree grew swiftly until its side branches filled the sky and its top branches went up past the clouds. Mammoth leaves cast a vast shade area across the earth, and all kinds of beasts sought shelter there. Gigantic flocks of birds came to live in the farreaching branches. Beasts and birds alike fed well on the tree's huge fruits growing in unbelievable abundance.
"Then down from the sky swooped a being whose voice filled all of space as he shouted out that the tree should be cut down, and that its branches should be removed, the leaves shaken off, the fruit scattered and that the beasts and birds should flee for their lives.
"The stump of the tree was to be left and encircled by a protecting band of iron and brass, but exposed to the elements for a period called 'seven times.' Any who can interpret this dream should step forth and speak up!"
There was a restless shuffle in the crowd, but not a man stepped forth. Probably some of the would-be interpreters remembered a previous time when Nebuchadnezzar angrily threatened to behead all who were unable to explain one of his dreams. In any event, not one of the many magicians, astrologers, and prognosticators came forth with anything to say, whereupon the king dismissed them.
For a while Nebuchadnezzar sat glumly silent, disappointed that none of his so-called "wise" men could help him. Suddenly a hopeful thought came to him.
"Why didn't I save time and effort and simply send for the man who interpreted my dream years ago?" he asked himself, gesturing for a servant. "Send word to Belteshazzar the Jew to come to me as soon as possible!"
"Belteshazzar" was the pagan name the king had given to Daniel, who soon arrived before Nebuchadnezzar. The king recounted to him all he had told his former audience.
"Not one of those learned men was able to tell me what my dream meant," the king observed discontentedly, "but I know you won't fail me because you are constantly in touch with the gods."
"I have only one God," Daniel smilingly reminded the king. "Then ask your one God to show you the meaning of my dream," Nebuchadnezzar insisted.
Daniel Interprets the Dream
Daniel was troubled. The meaning of the dream was plain to him as soon as he heard it, but he was hesitant to startle the king by coming out bluntly with unpleasant facts. As the minutes dragged by and Daniel was still preoccupied with his thoughts, the king realized that there was something Daniel wished he did not have to tell him.
"If there's something you think I wouldn't want to hear, don't let it prevent your speaking out," Nebuchadnezzar said, at the same time desperately wondering what bad news he was about to hear.
"I'm afraid that only your enemies would be pleased to hear what I have to say," Daniel answered.
"But I'm sure that I want to know what it is even more than they do," the king retorted.
"Here is the meaning of your dream," Daniel began, knowing there was no point in trying to spare the king's feelings any longer. "The colossal tree you saw in your sleep is you. You have grown in such power in the world that many rely on you for protection and sustenance, just as did the animals in your dream that fed off the tree's fruits.
"The one you saw in your dream who came out of the sky and decreed that the tree should be cut down was a messenger from God. God has decided that you need to be taught humility and to be shown how insignificant your pomp and majesty are when compared to the God who made the heavens and earth."
Nebuchadnezzar was on his feet now, staring blankly out a window at his beautiful Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
"Just how does your God plan to teach me this humility you speak of?" the king asked in a sarcastic tone.
"Your dream was meant to tell you that," Daniel promptly answered. "The cutting down of the tree means you will lose your position as king of Babylon."
"You mean my enemies are going to take over my nation?" queried Nebuchadnezzar.
"Not at all," Daniel explained. "For seven years you will have no power over Babylon or any other nation, but God will protect your kingdom for you. Before this happens it would be wise to depart from sinful pursuits, including the worship of idols. God would also be pleased if you distributed a part of your great wealth to the poor among your people who are in such need of food and shelter. If you do that, God would surely postpone the miserable events that otherwise will soon come upon you." (Daniel 4:21-27.)
Nebuchadnezzar was naturally quite miffed with these statements from Daniel. Even though he had just declared Daniel's God to be considered the most powerful of deities, he didn't like to be told how he should worship. As for contributing to the poor, he reasoned that he would have no wealth left if he gave to all who were in need. Nebuchadnezzar ended the audience abruptly. This relieved Daniel, who was spared informing the king HOW he would lose control of Babylon. The fact was that Nebuchadnezzar was going to go insane!
As the months passed and the political and financial affairs of Babylon remained in a promising state, the king began to doubt that Daniel's interpretation of the dream was true. There was no indication of trouble ahead. On the contrary, matters appeared better than ever, what with the wars of expansion apparently in the past.
The Haughty One Humbled
A year after his dream, Nebuchadnezzar was walking in his palace, particularly pleased at the sight of the lavish surroundings.
"Feast your eyes on all that!" he exclaimed proudly to guests as he gestured widely toward costly walls and buildings of the city. "There's no place in the universe like Babylon, the city I have built through my great power for the honor and glory of my majesty!"
Just as the king finished uttering this extremely vain remark, he was startled by a thunderous voice from the sky!
"Nebuchadnezzar, you are to lose your kingdom," the voice boomed. "Within an hour you will be an outcast from this city of your haughty pride! Instead of living with men, you will be forced out into the fields and forests to live with animals! For the next seven years you will even act and look like a wild beast! It will take you that long to fully realize that God decides every man's state, and gives to and takes from whomever He chooses!"
The king suddenly crouched crazily at the base of a fountain and gazed wild-eyed with his mouth wide open. He looked as though he wanted to say something, but only loud gasps and grunts came past his distorted lips. His shocked guests and aides backed away from him, obviously more perturbed by his conduct than by the thunderous voice, which possibly was heard only by Nebuchadnezzar. The king fell to his hands and knees and ran awkwardly along the street. Women screamed and men seized them and pulled them away from the struggling figure.
A crowd began to gather, but everyone kept a safe distance from the prone figure. The king's aides were afraid to seize the stricken man. "Mad man! Mad man!" was the shout that spread around the streets, and that drew only more of a crowd. Even the members of Nebuchadnezzar's family, when they heard of his condition, made no moves to have him taken away privately. God willed it that way. (Daniel 4:28-33.)
Very likely Daniel, who had long been next to the king in authority, kept the government running smoothly while Nebuchadnezzar was insane. Daniel and his three friends could be expected to return Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom to him in good condition when he recovered.
" -- With the Beasts of the Field"
Meanwhile, little was seen of the former king. Occasionally he would be glimpsed in some distant wooded area digging for something to eat, but if he knew he was being watched, he would scurry away like a startled animal.
As the years passed and Nebuchadnezzar was seen less, Daniel had a growing desire to learn how the former king was making out. Daniel had no intention of helping him in any way, because he realized God was dealing with the insane ruler, and would keep him alive through the seven rugged years. By following the clues of farmers and hunters, Daniel found where Nebuchadnezzar was living at the time. It turned out to be a small cave. There Daniel almost came face to face with Nebuchadnezzar, whose hair and beard were long and matted. Even his fingernails and toenails were thick and long like those of an animal, which indeed he had become after years of living like one. It was difficult to believe that such a creature had once been the most powerful ruler in the world, but it was more difficult to believe that he would soon return to that same position. If Nebuchadnezzar saw Daniel watching him, he gave no sign of it. He simply ambled down to a small stream, where he took a long drink. After that he munched on grass and dug vigorously in the ground, with his long nails, in search of roots. Shocked at the sight, Daniel returned to his home, thankful that he could know that God would restore Nebuchadnezzar to be a wiser man than he had been almost seven years before.
Bible Story Book Index
Fall Of Babylon The Great
SATISFIED THAT Nebuchadnezzar was basically in good health, though insane and living like an animal, Daniel returned to his home to await the time when the former king of Babylon would regain a normal mind.
When Nebuchadnezzar had spent seven years in his miserable state of mental derangement, the former king's sanity suddenly returned to him. (Daniel 4:33-34.) It was as though he abruptly became conscious of himself after seven years of being only conscious like an animal. He stared down at rags, a long unkempt beard, and claw-like nails.
"What am I doing like this in these rocks and bushes?" he asked himself.
Having noted a distant farm hut, he went there, only to be met by the screams of terrified small children, who fled to the hut to hide, and by a protective father who appeared at the door brandishing a sickle.
"I want to know the way to the city," Nebuchadnezzar said. "It's that way," the man pointed. "Be on your way, and don't show up here again!"
Not everybody Nebuchadnezzar met that day was so unfriendly. A few felt sorry for this strange outcast. Through their help, he was able to get cleaned up, be trimmed of his long hair, beard and nails, and be respectably clothed. After that it was no problem to obtain transportation into Babylon, which he did possibly in the cart of a friendly woodcutter. During the long ride Nebuchadnezzar was lost in thought and troubled by what had happened to him since the moment he had been showing guests around his palace. What was immediately plain to him was that a long time had elapsed since then.
There was much confusion at the gates of the palace in Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar showed up there to announce his identity.
"In case you haven't heard, Nebuchadnezzar no longer exists!" a young guard sneered.
"Don't talk to him like that!" an older guard snapped. "That is King Nebuchadnezzar!"
From that moment on the palace was in an uproar. Those who hoped never to hear of Nebuchadnezzar again were understandably shocked when they recognized the former ruler. Those who were loyal to the former king greeted him joyously.
Now that the events of the past seven years were made clear to him, Nebuchadnezzar could view himself well. He had tried to exalt himself to God's level. And God had made him drop to the level of animals, wild donkeys and such having been his only company in the hills and plains for a long time. Nebuchadnezzar now had a clearer picture of God, too Realizing that God had mercifully corrected him brought the meaning of something new to him -- humility. He was for the first time more ashamed of his actions as king than he was of those during his insanity. When that happened, God saw to it that Nebuchadnezzar was firmly reestablished on the throne of Babylonia. He was a much wiser ruler the rest of his days, during which he was honored more than ever by many peoples of all nations. (Daniel 4:34-37.) Nebuchadnezzar wrote the decree found in the fourth chapter of Daniel's book to teach others the lessons he had learned.
Nebuchadnezzar died after forty-three years of ruling Babylonia. He was succeeded by his son Evil-merodach, under whom conditions in the kingdom began to worsen. However, one of the new king's acts was laudable. He freed Jehoiachin, the king of Judah who had been brought by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon and imprisoned nearly thirty-seven years previously.
To show honor to the vassal king, Evil-merodach therefore allowed Jehoiachin the privileges of sharing the royal food in the palace. (II Kings 25:27-30.) This probably didn't last very long because after only a very short reign Evil-merodach was assassinated and another took his place.
During similar sudden changes for the next few years, the kingdom's power steadily waned. By the time an idolatrous man named Belshazzar had become co-ruler with his father, Nabonidus (apparently a son-in-law of Nebuchadnezzar), the empire was in serious trouble. Media and Persia, two nations to the north and east, had sent their armies heading toward high-walled Babylon, whose fall could mean the fall of all Babylonia.
Even under such ominous circumstances, Babylon seemed impregnable. Belshazzar disdainfully held a riotous feast for a thousand of his officials. As the evening progressed and wine flowed more freely, Belshazzar staggered to his feet and motioned for the music and chattering to cease.
"Why are we drinking to our gods from such ordinary cups?" he asked loudly. "Why not use the gold and silver vessels brought long ago from the so-called holy temple in Jerusalem? I say that it's time for those vessels to be put to a better use than in serving the God of Judah!"
There were raucous cheers. Servants hurried to bring out the costly containers, distribute them in the crowd and pour wine into them.
"Here's to our soldiers out on the walls!" Belshazzar bellowed, shakily holding aloft a gleaming golden goblet brimming with wine. "May they never run out of boiling water to pour down on the steaming heads of our bothersome besiegers!"
There were ripples of laughter, especially from the king's wives and concubines, who also were present. Everyone stood up, extended various containers of wine, roared approval and quaffed the beverages. Then the music continued and the people settled back to loud drinking of toast after toast to their many and varied gods. (Daniel 5:1-4.)
The Handwriting on the Wall
Just as waiters were struggling into the big room with huge trays of food, a woman screamed, bringing a moment of silence to the crowd. People pointed to the wall above the stage where the king and his favorites were sitting.
Still laughing at something that had been said at his table, Belshazzar glanced up. His expression abruptly changed. The color drained from his fear-stricken face. Within only a few feet of his head was what appeared to be a huge human hand, the forefinger tracing letters in the plaster with such pressure that it made deep, plain writing!
People were so paralyzed with fright at this awesome sight that they were hardly able to move. They watched with horrifying fascination as the hand wrote several groups of strange letters on the wall. Then the hand faded away. A few women fainted. Everyone stared at the wall, many trembling with fear. Belshazzar was suddenly aware that his knees were knocking against each other, and that his vertebrae felt as though they had dissolved. He tried to call out, but it took several efforts to gain his voice.
"Call the astrologers, the Chaldean scholars and the magicians!" he finally was able to mutter.
The men Belshazzar had summoned dutifully filed in. The king pointed to the wall.
"Tell me what that writing means!" he demanded excitedly. "To any one of you who can do this, I promise magnificent clothing, a golden chain necklace and that he shall become the third one in power in the Babylonian empire!"
These "wise" men, as they were called, swarmed around the wall to study the writing, but not a one of the astrologers, scholars or magicians could make anything of it. They had to admit that the writing was utterly meaningless to them. Disappointed and still apprehensive, Belshazzar hesitatingly dismissed them, convinced that there was some ominous message on the wall he should know about. (Daniel 5:5-9.)
In contrast to the former festive atmosphere that had prevailed in the banquet room, there was now a restless sobriety. Food and drink no longer had much appeal. People were more interested in leaving than in feasting. At this point a matronly woman followed by attendants entered the room and walked toward Belshazzar.
"O king, live forever!" she respectfully said, bowing. "What brings you here, queen-mother?" Belshazzar asked testily. "I heard you didn't approve of this gathering."
"I've just learned what happened," the queen-mother answered, glancing uneasily at the wall. "Don't give up hope of learning the meaning of that writing up there. Right here in this city is a man who used to be chief of the wise men. Nebuchadnezzar gave him that rank when this man showed unusual knowledge and understanding. As one who had the wisdom of the gods, he had the ability to interpret dreams and reveal hidden meanings. If you call on him, he should be able to help you."
"Who is this man?" Belshazzar asked, leaning forward expectantly.
"His Jewish name was Daniel, but King Nebuchadnezzar renamed him Belteshazzar, almost like your name," was the reply.
After a while a soldier brought in Daniel, now an aging man who had lost his high rank in the kingdom soon after King Nebuchadnezzar's death.
Belshazzar Learns His Fate
"I have heard of you and your unique abilities," Belshazzar said. "I have already asked many men to tell me the meaning of these letters on the wall, but they have failed. If you succeed, you shall receive the reward of being third man in power in this kingdom. Besides, you will be given fine clothing and a splendid necklace of gold!" (Daniel 5:10-16.)
"I don't have any desire for your rewards," Daniel told the king. "I prefer that you keep them or turn them over to someone else after I've given you the meaning of what is written on the wall. First, though, there are some other things you should know. Years ago your grandfather King Nebuchadnezzar gained great possessions, majesty, glory and honor. All that made him a proud, vain man who took or spared lives according to his whims. He wouldn't admit that it was the God of Israel who had allowed him to have his wealth and power. Therefore, God took his kingdom away from him and cast him out to live with animals until he could learn that God's will prevails above that of any man. Even though you knew all this, you, too, Belshazzar, have tried to elevate yourself. This very evening you ventured to show others your disdain for your Creator by using the vessels from God's holy temple for the profane purpose of drinking to the lifeless gods you foolishly worship. Because you have refused to humble yourself and raise the God who has given you the breath of life, God sent a hand to write you a warning!
"The words you see on the wall mean that your kingdom is at an end, that you have proved yourself to be an unwise ruler, and that the enemies at your gates have already begun to take your empire!" (Daniel 5:17-28.)
There was silence in the room as Belshazzar stared at Daniel. A deep fear showed in the king's face, but there was also resentment because Belshazzar was being told that he was an unwise ruler.
"You can't say that I don't at least keep my promises to you!" the king exclaimed.
In spite of his alarm at what he had just heard, Belshazzar managed to order his servants to bring a fine coat and a gold chain to put on Daniel at once, and directed one of his officers to proclaim that Daniel would be elevated to the third-ranking man in power in Babylonia. When Daniel left the palace, he was attired the way the king said he would be and was shown the courtesies extended to royalty. (Daniel 5:29.)
Meanwhile, days before, Median and Persian soldiers had started to work hard on the ambitious project of temporarily diverting the Euphrates River from its natural course through the city of Babylon into a marshland off to the side. This they accomplished, surprisingly, by digging a channel through one bank and piling huge amounts of stones into the river to shunt a most of its water, for a time, into the channel they had dug. Inasmuch as the Babylonians were penned up in their city, they certainly couldn't interfere, and apparently didn't even know what was being done.
The City Taken
With that part of the riverbed that ran through the city almost dry, troops of the Medes and Persians, led by men named Darius and Cyrus, marched at night through the riverbed mud to almost the very heart of the city. There they found a carelessly left open gate which led from the river through the walls along the river into the city proper. Troops poured into Babylon to confound the citizens and soldiers with utter surprise. Before morning the attackers were in command, having actually come within the outer limits of the city while Belshazzar and his guests drank in the banquet room of the palace.
The king, meanwhile, had retired to his quarters. He was frightened and distressed by what Daniel had told him. To add to his misery, he began to imagine that he was being watched and followed by someone or ones who meant him harm. Doubling his personal guard didn't give him a feeling of security. Nor did it protect him. Clever assassins succeeded in taking his life that night in spite of his guards. King Belshazzar didn't live long enough to see his city overrun by the besiegers he had scorned!
After the conquest of the Babylonians, it was decided that Darius, ruler of the Medes, should stay in charge of Babylon while Cyrus, ruler of Persia, went back to his affairs in Persia.
First of Exiles Return
The first of the Jewish exiles to start back for their homeland after being captives of the Babylonians were led by Zerubbabel, prince of Judah. Their long caravan of about fifty thousand people also included over seven hundred horses, more than a hundred mules, over four hundred camels and almost seven thousand donkeys. There were also herds of cattle and flocks of sheep to be used as food along the way and for starting new herds and flocks when they arrived in the homeland.
Directly from Babylon to the land of Judah was more than five hundred miles, but between the two places was the vast Syrian desert, an area too arid for crossing with animals other than camels. There were too many animals to carry water for, which meant that the Jews would have to take a route twice as long in order to stay close to streams. Therefore, instead of setting out westward toward Judah, they started northwest along the west side of the Euphrates River, following it for roughly four hundred miles until they came to a region where smaller streams emptied into the Euphrates from mountains to the west. There they turned west and then south to move along the foothills of the mountains in northwestern Syria. This part of the route took them past Damascus, Mt. Hermon and along the northern part of the Jordan River. From there they came down into the land of Judah to end a trip close to a thousand miles long and which required about four months to make.
This was an exciting, happy type of journey, but not every event during the trip was joyful. There were deaths as well as births. Hostile bands of nomads occasionally made night raids to steal anything of value or even to drive off unprotected sheep or cattle.
Conditions were bad in Jerusalem, whose walls were broken, the interior charred by fire and the temple utterly demolished. Although a large part of the Jews chose to settle there, there was a general scattering of them all over Judah because of an effort to locate in the regions and homesites their forebears had left. Ravages by the elements, animals and roving junk pickers had left most buildings uninhabitable. Tents and crude makeshift structures had to be set up to house the new citizens until they could repair or rebuild the old houses that were falling apart.
As soon as the people were established in fair comfort, the men were summoned to Jerusalem by Zerubbabel and Jeshua to rebuild the main altar at the temple site so that they could begin as soon as possible to make burnt offerings in the mornings and evenings. The altar was set up even before a new temple floor had been laid because they feared the people who lived nearby, and believed that this hurried act of obedience would give them greater protection from God.
When it came time for the Feast of Tabernacles, the Jews obediently observed it, having looked forward eagerly to the privilege of having this special time for themselves. This was to be the most joyous time of the year, but under the circumstances the Jews probably didn't observe it with the unrestrained joy they otherwise would have done. They were so thankful to be in their own country, though, that they gave liberally at the two offering times of the Feast. There was such a great amount of riches taken in that it was possible, with permission from King Cyrus, who still held Judah as a vassal nation, to purchase lumber for building a second temple from the nearby cities of Tyre and Sidon. Arrangements were also made to hire skilled craftsmen from these places to come the next year to carry out the intricate work the Jews weren't trained to do.
By the time the floor of the temple was completed, Jeshua had appointed men from the Levites for various functions. These assistant priests and priests were attired in the proper vestments for a dedication ceremony. Blowing trumpets and striking cymbals, these men led the people in happy songs of gratitude. This was followed by a loud chorus of joyous shouts. At the same time there was loud wailing, in the far eastern fashion of showing sadness, by older men who had seen the original temple. They wept openly because they regretted that the new one would lack the size, beauty, majesty and furnishings of the first one.
Time passed while the Jews concentrated on cleaning up the rubble from the walls and brought in material to rebuild the broken parts. At the same time they managed to do a little work on the temple, but small progress was made. Meanwhile, their Samaritan neighbors became more and more disgruntled because of the construction that was taking place on the walls. Slowing up work on the temple and finally stopping the work wasn't too difficult for the Samaritans because it involved only one site. But it was impossible for them to hamper the work at dozens of places throughout Jerusalem.
Years passed. It was now sometime after the death of Cyrus' son that Darius the Persian became king. He proved to be in favor of the Jews.
In the second year of the reign of King Darius, two Jewish prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, were inspired by God to stir up their countrymen into continuing work on the temple in spite of the threats of their enemies. These men had come from Babylon with Zerubbabel. Having lived many years close to God, they more clearly realized the importance of getting on with the temple. Besides, they had more faith than did most Jews that God would protect those who would try to carry out the work God expected them to do.
"We have reason to believe that King Darius would favor work on the temple starting again," they told Zerubbabel, Jeshua and other leaders.
Encouraged, but at the same time beset with misgivings, the Judean leader eventually called together the temple workmen, who anxiously renewed their work, though concerned about how long they could continue without enemy interruption. As might be expected, the watchful Samaritans soon noted what was happening.
When Governor Tatnai was told what was taking place, his reaction was disappointing to the Samaritans. Instead of replying that he would come with troops, he sent a letter back indicating merely that he would look into the matter. A few days later the Samaritans saw Tatnai and a few aides riding southward through Samaria, apparently on their way to Jerusalem. There were no troops in the entourage, which could mean that the governor didn't intend to force the Jews into anything.
Obviously a fair person who didn't accept the exaggerated and hostile reports of the Samaritans, Tatnai came to Zerubbabel and simply asked him by whose authority he was allowing his men to work on the temple, and why Jerusalem's walls had been partly reconstructed with the strength of fortress walls.
"Our authority comes from the God of heaven and earth," Zerubbabel respectfully replied. "Years ago a great king of Israel was instructed by our God to build a temple here. Long after it was built, our forefathers angered God, causing Him to bring King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon against them. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple and took our people as prisoners to Babylon. Some of those people are here with us. Others and their descendants still live in or near Babylon. In the first year of the reign of King Cyrus of Persia, Cyrus decreed, according to the desire of God, that the temple should be rebuilt by our people. Many thousands of us returned to Jerusalem with permission from the king, who gave us back the gold and silver vessels Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the house of God. These we have here ready to be put back in use in the temple, which we haven't been able to finish even in the last sixteen years. That is because our enemies have constantly tried to prevent our work."
Tatnai asked a few more questions and then left, leaving Zerubbabel and Jeshua wondering what would come of the governor's visit. The Samaritans wondered too, when they saw the governor and his aides returning to Syria. On reaching his office, Tatnai made a report to send to King Darius, describing in detail his visit to Jerusalem.
"If you are in favor of it, I suggest that the Persian records at Babylon be searched to learn what was written about King Cyrus in this matter," Tatnai concluded. "Please let us know if the Jews should be allowed to continue their construction. Your decision will be carried out as soon as we receive word from you."
On reading Tatnai's report, King Darius ordered the royal records to be searched, but it was soon discovered that all but recent records had been moved to the Persian summer palace at Achmetha, up in the mountains about three hundred miles northeast of Babylon. There a scroll was found which clearly described what King Cyrus had done concerning another proposed temple at Jerusalem.
"This tells me just what I want to be sure of!" was Darius' pleased exclamation. "Now I'm going to make another decree to fit in with that of my famous predecessor, King Cyrus. It should straighten out those in Samaria who have been troubling the people of Judah!"
In his message to be made public, especially in the areas of Samaria, Judah and Syria, Darius ordered that work on the temple at Jerusalem shouldn't be hampered by anyone, that the tribute usually coming to Babylon from vassal nations to the west should go to the Jews in any amount they needed to continue building the temple and that the priests there were to be furnished bullocks, rams, lambs, wine, wheat, salt and oil.
"All I ask in return," explained King Darius, who had respect for the God of Israel, "is that the priests include me and my sons among those for whom they offer sacrifices and say prayers. I hereby declare that anyone who defies or ignores my wishes in this affair will have boards stripped from his home for building a gallows for hanging him. As for his home, may it never be used again for anything except an outhouse. May the God of Israel destroy any who would harm the temple of God at Jerusalem! Let this decree be carried out speedily."
Darius' decree was carried to the western vassal nations with haste, bringing angry surprise and dejection to the Samaritans and relief and joy to the Jews. They had felt that Darius would favor them, but they didn't expect such vigorous support from him. The Samaritans, fearing that they would be watched by Persian agents, almost immediately ceased troubling the Jews, who at long last felt a freedom they hadn't experienced since coming to their land.
For the next four years work on the temple progressed so well that the building was finished in the sixth year of the reign of Darius. Because of the former harassment from their enemies and their periods of lack of dedication to their work, the Jews were twenty years in carrying out their project.
The dedication ceremonies marked the most eventful day since the Jews had arrived. It was a time of triumph, joy and thankfulness. Everything was set in careful order for the functions of the priests and their assistants. Offerings included a hundred bullocks, two hundred rams and twelve male goats. Some of these animals, as God would have it, were furnished by the same people who had tried for years to prevent the building of the temple.
From this point onward, the events from then to now are mostly recorded in advance, as prophecy. But prophetic writings do not directly lend themselves to inclusion in such a narrative as "The Bible Story."
The account brings us up to the restoration of Judah under the Persians, a type of the future restoration of all twelve tribes to the Promised Land.
There is, of course, considerable history in the New Testament. But we do not plan to cover that in "The Bible Story."
In conclusion, let us remember that the book of Daniel with the story of the handwriting on the wall prefigures the state of the world now. The handwriting is on the wall of world civilization today. The voice of a modern-day Daniel is going out to all the world via the WORLD TOMORROW telecast, "The Plain Truth" magazine and other educational services of the Worldwide Church of God. How many will heed the warning?
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