THE PROPHET DANIEL lived from around 620 to 538 bc. When he was a teenager, his home nation of Judah was attacked by the Babylonians and Daniel and some other young nobles were taken as captives to Babylon. There they became virtually slaves to the great king, Nebuchadnezzar.
Daniel chapter 2 relates how God enabled the young prophet to interpret a peculiar dream the king had: a statue in the shape of a man, with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of mixed clay and iron.
Nebuchadnezzar had been wondering what would happen to his great empire after he had gone (v.29), and so Daniel’s first explanation was, ‘You are the head of gold’ (v.38).
Babylon was a rich magnificent kingdom! The dream showed that Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom was going to be replaced by another kingdom, represented by the chest and arms of silver—inferior to his, as silver is inferior to gold (v.39).
The Fall of Babylon
Well, would you know? In 539 bc Babylon was conquered by the united kingdom of the Medes and Persians. The account of this is in Daniel chapter 5.
Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, Belshazzar, held a great feast in which he mocked the God of Israel. The mysterious fingers of an angel wrote a message on the wall, declaring that Belshazzar was found wanting, and he and his kingdom were at their end. ‘That very night
Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty two years old’ (vs.30–31).
How did Daniel know that the great empire of Babylon was going to be conquered? And how did he know that the conqueror would be a dual kingdom (Medo-Persia), as represented by the two arms of the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream?
Not only Daniel, but other Jewish prophets knew these things. The downfall of Babylon was foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, who prophesied around the time of the Babylonian invasion of Judah, when Babylon was at the height of its power:
Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. Then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave (Jeremiah 27:6–7).
Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon at the time; his son was Nabonidus, and his grandson was Belshazzar. It happened exactly as Jeremiah said.
And the overthrow of Belshazzar was also predicted by Isaiah, who prophesied during the time of the empire of Assyria, before Babylon even had an empire:
“Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name” (Isaiah 45:1–3).
Over 150 years before it happened, the prophet Isaiah foretold the overthrow of Babylon, and named the king who was to do it! We know from history that Babylon was a heavily fortified city. The river Euphrates ran through the city, and because this was a potential weak point its entrance was protected by a massive pair of gates.
Cyrus ingeniously diverted the river, allowing his troops to gain access to the city—just as Isaiah described. And note the detail: Isaiah said that God would ‘loose the belts of kings’. Daniel tells us that when Belshazzar saw the writing on the wall ‘the king’s colour
changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together’ (5:6).
Nebuchadnezzar was an arrogant king, but God taught him a lesson. Daniel chapter 4 tells of another dream the king had. He saw a great tree which was a shelter for all the birds and beasts of the earth (a very powerful symbol of himself, who took all the surrounding nations under his wings).
The tree was to be cut down and its growth stunted by having a band of iron and bronze bound about its stump.
Understandably, when Daniel was shown the meaning of the dream by God he was afraid to tell the king (v. 19). How do you tell a king he’s going to go mad? But he delivered God’s message:
This is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will (vs. 24–25).
And so it happened. Nebuchadnezzar was struck with madness which lasted for seven years. His illness has been identified with lycanthropy, a disease where people believe
they have been taken over by the characteristics of an animal, usually a wolf (this is thought to be the basis of stories about werewolves).
There is corroboration of Nebuchadnezzar’s illness from secular history. Megasthenes, a Greek historian who lived in the Third Century bc, noted: “It is moreover related by the Chaldeans thatas he went up to, or ascended the roof of his palace, he was -possessed by some god” (most early civilisations attributed mental illness to the influence of a demon or evil spirit). Josephus, the First Century Jewish historian, quotes a Babylonian
priest called Berossus of the Third Century bc as saying of Nebuchadnezzar: “(It) may be rendered, just as well, that he fell into a state of mental depression, as into a state of bodily sickness.” There is an inscription by Nebuchadnezzar himself in the Museum of the East India Company which describes the period of his insanity. It was a period when no great buildings were erected, no victims were offered on the altar of the Babylonians’ god Marduk, and the irrigation canals were not cleaned.
Nebuchadnezzar’s incapacity came to an end, as Daniel said it would, and it had the effect that God intended:
At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendour returned to me. My counsellors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble (vs. 36–37).
J Hamilton Wilson
To be continued.