If you were to hold a map very close to your face, you would not be able to see it properly. Your vision would be blurred and you would probably only be able to make out a few streets at the very best. Our purpose in looking at Daniel is, in one sense, to move the map away from our face and begin see the bigger picture in a book that was ordained to be written as a means to encourage us all (2 Timothy 3:16).
“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”
In a turbulent world the book of Daniel reminds us of who is in control, especially during hard times when everything seems out of control. As we walk through the book of Daniel and see God’s dealing with individuals, world powers and history, we clearly see that He is the master of every situation that man can face, mentally, physically and spiritually.
God is the One who knows the stars by name (Psalm 147:4) and is aware of every hair on our head (Matthew 10:30); He sees a glass of water given in His name (Mark 9:41) and the widow’s two small coins (Luke 21:2-3). God is the one who controls historical eras (Isaiah 40:6; 1 Peter 1:24) and brings in, or allows rulers to stand and fall. In all of this we see the outworking of amazing grace (Ephesians 1:4, 2:8) and the patience of One who has the right to ‘call time’ on our world at any point. Although God is other-world and all-powerful, He is also the One who was wounded for our transgressions as is clearly seen in the life, death and resurrection
In all of this we see the outworking of the Kingdom of God: His rule and reign, in personal, national and international ways as the One who seeks to reconcile and redeem. At this very moment this work continues in our lives and our world through the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Let us now turn to look at events leading up to the time of Daniel.
The world scene, God’s grace and the denial of reality
In 605BC, Pharaoh Necho of Egypt got seriously bashed up at the Battle of Carchemish by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, who were really flexing their muscles and becoming the dominant power in the region. The Babylonians ran after the beaten Egyptians, chasing them south through Judah. Yet whilst in Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar hears of his father’s death and returns home – but not alone!
Nebuchadnezzar takes a group of captives with him from Jerusalem and among them are, Daniel, and his friends (Daniel 1:1-4). Despite the political turmoil, oppression of superpowers and the difficulty he finds himself in, Daniel is going to influence Kings and nations. No matter where he is, Daniel in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
God is the ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ One and all around our world there are countless testimonies of God’s presence with His people, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Take for example, the story of Maryam and Marziyeh.
Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh are two Iranian women whom, independently of each other, came to Christ from a Muslim background and later spent two hundred and fifty-nine days in prison for their faith, not knowing if they would ever be released. They testify to the presence of Jesus with them and the way in which some of the women they were imprisoned with found freedom in Christ, despite being in a notorious prison where many prisoners died. During their imprisonment they each received over forty letters a day from Christians around the world. On one occasion when talking to her interrogators, Maryam was asked what it was about Christianity that was more complete and made her leave Islam. She replied:
“Christ said, ‘I am the first and the last.’ There is no one before Him, no one after Him. Christ’s completeness is evident in His love. Even the most sinful people on earth can feel God’s love through Jesus. He was the perfect man, who sacrificed His life on the cross for our sins. By paying the price we could never pay. He gave us the priceless holy gift of freedom – freedom from sin and freedom from religious laws we could never perfectly follow as imperfect mortals.”
Maryam Rostampour in, ‘Captive in Iran’ pages 185-6.
God’s grace towards those who thought they knew better
As the power of the Babylonian swept across the world, Nebuchadnezzar has King Jehoiakim of Judah bound in bronze chains (2 Chronicles 36:5-7) with the intention of taking him to Babylon. Yet despite the predicament Jehoiakim finds himself in, he still doesn’t turn to God.
In the ANE, defeated kings were often paraded in their captor’s cities before being sacrificed before the gods, yet Jehoiakim ends up being restored to his throne as a vassal under the large Babylonian thumb for three years (2 Kings 24:1; Jer 25:1). Nebuchadnezzar wanted Jerusalem to see who was boss and on leaving Jerusalem, he took articles from the temple of the Lord and put them in his own temple. But why would God allow this to happen?
God allowed all of this to happen because Judah, at that time, had a ‘go-it-alone’ attitude as if she were powerful and clever enough to deal with her own problems. Many centuries later, Jesus tells a story of a son who thinks he knows best how to use his Father’s inheritance (Luke 15). Instead of being able to exercise control over his environment, the world around him soon dominated the ‘I know best’ son. On his return to take the position of a servant, the son was confronted by the great love of his father.
At the time of Daniel, God is punishing a nation, yet the purpose of this is to bring them to their senses and restore them in the blessings of the Lord. Yet, as already mentioned, Jehoiakim was not going to listen.
Jehoiakim was known as a vicious man who did not seek forgiveness (2 Kings 24:4) and who was steeped in idolatry (Jeremiah 26:20-24). He also spent much of his time building palaces for himself whilst the rest of his people struggled to pay tribute to Egypt and Babylon. For Jehoiakim, it must have seemed as if things carried on as normal, even though he was not acknowledging God; but this was not so. It was a period of grace and mercy with the offer of reconciliation.
Reconciliation is offered by God in many different ways and all have the opportunity to turn to Him. Take for example, Steven Wells.
Steven Wells is a surgeon who grew up as a Black Muslim, practicing a form of Islam that mixes Black Nationalism with hatred of white people. As a teenager he started playing basketball with a boy who always talked about Jesus – the Jesus who was Saviour and also God. Steven started to gather more information about Jesus and started perceiving that Jesus actually worked in people’s lives. He wrote…
“The Jesus I came to know was human and closer to me. He came to earth to seek me, to show me compassion, to show me God’s love. That view of God was foreign to me because the Muslim god is far away. He has no real contact with you on a personal level. But I began to see that Jesus is the one who comes down and touches you, he talks to you, and he’s precious to you. He feels what you’re feeling and is touched by your infirmities. And that was what drew me and caught me and won my heart.”
‘He’s Been Faithful’ p 130.Editor: Carol Cymbala.
Ignoring God’s grace and mercy
In the years leading up to Babylonian captivity, God was gracious and merciful and spoke through the prophet, Jeremiah, who in the fourth reign of Jehoiakim prophetically spoke into the nation. However, Jehoiakim was not gracious and had become caught up in his “I’ll do it my way” mind-set. He ripped up the scrolls that Jeremiah had written on and so Jeremiah wrote them again with an additional prophecy about the fall of the nation (Jeremiah 36). If the nation didn’t want to learn one way, it would learn another.
Egypt persuades Jehoiakim to withhold his tribute to Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:1), but Judah is not going to get away with it. As one of Israel’s previous kings had said, some may trust in chariots or horses but become like those who have no understanding and are controlled by outside influences (Psalm 32:9). As a nation, Israel was only able to overcome opposition and difficulty in so far as she trusted in the name of the Lord their God (Psalm 20:7). In standing in her own strength she was standing in a place of weakness, yet paradoxically her own strength had the ability to cripple her.
As believers we can, through His outrageous grace, be renewed and soar on wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31) yet Judah did not even have the wings of a flightless chicken and she was about to get pecked…very badly. Man does not like the idea of being dependent on anyone for help and yet it is at this very point that our real problem begins.
The denial of reality and a God who does not give up
Ignoring our need to depend on God is a denial of reality since we were never made to ‘go it alone.’ We are His creation (Genesis 1:27-8) and made to walk alongside our heavenly Father and reveal what He is like in how we shape the world and develop relationships with others. This is so clearly seen in Jesus who did not value reputation or position (Philippians 2:5f) and was willing to walk with the marginalised (John 4:7f) and endure the indignation of the crowd as He ate with the ‘unlovely ones’ (Matthew 9:10-11, Luke 19:7). .
God does not give up on His rebellious people and allows the Babylonians, Arameans, Moabites and Ammonite raiders to come against Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24:2). It’s as if He was saying, “OK so you think you can go it alone; then get on and do it.” Jehoiakim had, in ignoring God, been under the thumb of the enemy, but now the whole hand comes down and Jehoiakim meets with an untimely death.
The strength of Judah was no more than that of a fly compared with the fly-swatting power of the Babylonians. Yet the only reason the Babylonians could exercise this power was because God was allowing it with the ultimate purpose of restoration. In a world where we so easily give up on others, God does not give up on us. In dealing with Judah He may have stepped back, in order to reveal that man’s ways really don’t work, but God had not stepped away. He is the One who hears the cry of the Hagars of this world (Gen 16:7) and can reach into pagan strongholds (Jonah 3:6-10). He hears the cry of all who turn to Him whatever their background as the following testimony reveals.
In 1973, America was rocked with the Watergate scandal and, Charles ‘Chuck’ Colson, who occupied a position of prestige and power with an office next to the President’s was in trouble. He was known as President Nixon’s hatchet man and was going to end up in prison. Knowing that he was in trouble he sought out a close friend, Tom Phillips, a business executive who was a Christian. On leaving Tom’s house, Chuck said that he could not drive his car and called out to God with the first honest prayer in his life. He went on to say that he sat there alone in his car for a long time – yet not alone at all.
Chuck went to prison and on leaving in 1975, set up Prison Fellowship with a small group of people - all of whom were led by the Holy Spirit. Within a few years the ministry spanned over seventy-five nations with thousands of volunteers and an amazing outreach into prisons. He also wrote what is now a very well-known autobiography, ‘Born Again.’
A minister translated his book into Russian and one day received a letter which he then passed on to Chuck. It was from prisoners in Siberia. A prisoner told him about how they had received the book and how over three thousand prisoners had read or listened to others reading it. They also wrote this:
“It is good that you wrote about the author Colson. When we learned that he too had been in prison, we understood that he knew the meaning of freedom. In other words, we who hated and thought that such feelings (as hatred) were experienced by all people learned that it was possible to learn to love God and other people…” Signed, Semyon Gorokhov, Valentin Sukonin and the other 3,000 prisoners, Magadan, Siberia, 12th of June 1990
Loving God, C. Colson, preface p11.
The danger of being self-centred
Our struggle is against the powers of this dark world and spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12) yet our weakness only comes about when we become self-centred rather than God-centred.
Israel and Judah’s main struggle was always going to be with self and God often allowed world events to shake them to their senses. As a nation she often ended up battered and bruised (Isaiah 1), yet ultimately it was an innocent victim who was battered and bruised as He stood in our place in order to pay for our transgression and bring us into fellowship with the All-powerful compassionate One (Isaiah 43:5). Yet despite having so much done for us it is still, all too often, our mind-set that separates us from God.
King Jehoiakim was finally removed from the scene, yet the mind-set fostered on some people and embraced by others, was still present. Through troubled times and senseless Kings (Jehoiachin and Zedekiah) the downward spiral continued for Judah and further groups were carried off into captivity.
The second captivity (after Daniel’s) was around 597 B.C and included Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1-3), and a third captivity occurred at the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 586BC when Zedekiah was carted off to Babylon where he died. It was not going to be until 536BC that the first remnant was to return to Jerusalem, 70 years after Daniel had first arrived in the main city of the mega-power that dominated the region. Yet seasons come and seasons go; empires rise and empires fall. All men are like grass and their glory like the flowers of the field. Babylon in all her might and power would eventually pass away like the early morning mist off of the river, but the word of the Lord remains forever.
“As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children — with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.
In contrast to the brevity of a man’s life and the suffering so often inflicted on a fallen world, we live in a world where God’s uplifting grace, continues to speak of His glory to those who would stop and think about it….
“The heavens are telling the glory of God. The very shape of starry space makes news of God’s handiwork. One day is brimming over with talk for the next day, and each night passes on intimate knowledge to the next night.”
Psalm 19:1-2 C. Seerveld translation.
Let’s now turn to take a closer look at the city of Babylon.
Taking a closer look at Babylon
The reason we are going to take a closer look at the power and opulence of Babylon is so that we might see just what Daniel and his friends were up against in the midst of sophisticated worship systems and demonic activity. Yet Daniel would have been aware of the fact that spiritual power in others is no guarantee of spiritual truth. Daniel’s safeguard, as indeed is ours, was the message of God and not the words of actions of other religious beliefs.
As we travel through the book of Daniel what we see is that despite all attempts to absorb Daniel and his friends into the mindset of a domineering super-power, is God triumphing over adversity through small, ordinary people like you and I. Think about how great and powerful this city was as you read through this section, but don’t lose sight of the One who tells us we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
God strengthens His people
God wants to strengthen us in our inner being with the power of the Holy Spirit so that Christ dwells in our hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:16-18). When we forget this and don’t spend time with God, we begin to struggle in our heart and mind because everything in the world seems to suddenly become stronger than it actually is. As scripture clearly reveals, it is often what is in us that causes us the most difficulty..
For example, the greatest problem to, Moses, at the burning bush was not the power of Egypt but the struggles of his own mind (Exodus 4:1-11) and the real problem for, Elijah, at Carmel was not Baal’s power but Israel’s indecisiveness (1 Kings 18:21). As believers, we can all be caught up with what is around us, yet we are told to…
“…fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:18
All of us can get it wrong at times and all of us are continually in need of grace and mercy, regardless of how good we may think we are.
Good and bad people
In many cases, the only difference between a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ person is the amount of social restraint that is upon them and all of us can get it wrong. For example, in one sense David, was by nature no different from King Ahab and both coveted and ended up as murderers (2 Sam 11:1-17, 1 Kings 21:7-16). However David learned what it was to be a man that sought God from the heart no matter what was going on around his life, as many of the Psalms clearly reveal.
Sometimes we look at all the problems around us and begin to wonder if God really cares for us. All around our world there are people who go through incredible hardship and even death yet do not deny the grace, mercy and love of God. Take the following story for example.
When, Brent Foster, was between thirteen and fourteen years old he was diagnosed with cancer and within twenty-four hours his leg had been amputated. A few years later whilst at University, he found that the cancer had spread through his body and that it was inoperable and he went to be with the Lord in the spring of 1995. In the last few months of his life he wrote these words: “Although my illness will appear a tragedy to the world around me, those who know God will understand the truth which he brought to us himself by entering human history in the person of Jesus Christ. As recorded in his Word, all good gifts are from above, and all the good I will miss in an extended earthly life are but shadows of the real thing. Real life begins with God. This is not the end for me but just the beginning.”
Upon entering Babylon as a young captive, Daniel could have felt very small and insignificant, yet did not let the events he was caught up in eclipse his understanding of the One who loved him. Yes, he was going into a powerful pagan city, but no, he was not going alone. But where did Babylon come from in the first place and what was it like?
The soil from which Babylon grew
Babylon was originally one of Nimrod’s cities (Genesis 10:10) and in his day it would not have been so different from other cities. Nimrod (whose name means ‘let us rebel’) was Ham’s grandson and was known as a warrior and a hunter in defiance of God (hence “‘before the Lord”: Genesis 10:9). He built an empire based on conquest, beginning with Babel (Babylon). Since then Babel / Babylon has been a symbol of world power that is hostile to God, as was Egypt. However God is the One who holds ultimate power in His hands.
“Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.”
God’s supremacy is seen in many ways throughout scripture. For example, consider He worked through Moses (a failed hero living in the backside of the desert) to bring Egypt to her knees and release Israel from slavery. We also see His supremacy in how He works through Daniel to reach the ruling elite in Babylon, despite Daniel having entered the city as a captive. God moves in amazing ways and all He asks of us is our availability. Life is not about our strength or resources and God never asks us to do anything that He is not willing to help us with. But are we available?
God is in overall control and both Egypt and Babylon (symbols of evil) were eventually going to pass away and God’s ultimate supremacy over evil is awesome to behold. In the weakness of the flesh, the Pre-Incarnate Son of God entered the dusty realms of this planet. He stood in man’s place and showed us how man should live in harmony with His heavenly Father. He then gave His life so that we might live. Satan had his hour, yet was defeated by the Servant-King who rose victorious from the grave.
Through God’s intervention in man’s affairs, we are the ‘Blessed Ones’ who are called, as all covenant-people are, to grow in the soil of God’s promises (Ps 1:1-3. All men are called to choose how to live: by the fruit of their own actions, or in the power of the One who stoops low with the offer of forgiveness and reconciliation. Take, for example, the following story.
Manoj was a Hindu living the high life in 2007 as a successful businessman, buying and selling blocks of apartments throughout the country. However when the credit- crunch began to set in, he lost some property and then his small son became seriously ill with breathing difficulties. Of that time Manoj writes:
“Though I was a born-and-bred Hindu, I had never really practised my faith. I always thought Christianity was something that was more to do with Europeans and Americans than with Asians like me. But as my wife and I sat in the hospital with my son’s life slipping away before us, I had a powerful sense that God truly exists, and that he alone could help in our hour of need. All the while a Christian couple we had only recently befriended were praying for us.
On the fourth day the consultant came and told us our son was gravely ill – she seemed to be preparing us for the worst. An hour later to everyone’s utter astonishment, my son suddenly sat bolt upright in bed. We had witnessed what could only be described as a miracle.
I agreed with my wife that we should visit our local church to say thank you to our friends for their prayers. But as I met for the first time with real Christians who loved me and cared for me, and listened to teaching about Jesus from the Bible, I began a journey which challenged my previous perceptions and beliefs about life. I felt called to re-evaluate my life, and new values and priorities began to take shape. I discovered that there was a God who loved all and died for all. Within us a few weeks I found myself walking to the front of the church to commit my life to Jesus Christ. My business is no longer what it was. But what does that matter. When I found Jesus, I found a new purpose in life.”
Jesus through Asian eyes, Good Book Company, section 1
Let us now turn and take a detailed look at the city of Babylon. The reason we are going to do this is to see the power, opulence and spiritual darkness of an incredible super-power that could so easily have dominated Daniel’s thinking. Yet, in God’s grace and mercy Daniel overcomes all opposition and in this there is great hope for us all. We all face difficulties of varying levels of hardship yet God is always the “I will never leave you nor forsake you One.” He is the One who levels the mountains and raises the valleys. He was with Daniel and is with us by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Babylon: It really was an amazing city!
Herodotus, a 5th century BC historian who visited Babylon, stated that the walls of Babylon were 16 miles in circumference. Each of the four city walls was four miles long and the city formed an exact square straddling the river Euphrates. The walls were circa 300ft high with a deep ditch on the outer side and the walls were around eighty feet thick. Just imagine what that must have looked like!
On top of each wall was a causeway along which chariots would race with teams of four horses and there was enough room for chariots to pass one another. The outer wall of the city was known as ‘Imgur-Enlil’ and the inner wall ‘Nimid-Enlil’. The completion of these walls is spoken of in historical records of the day, where Nebuchadnezzar writes:
“That no assault should reach Imgur-Enhil, the wall, the wall of Babylon, I did, what no earlier king had done…at a distance so that it (the assault) did not come nigh, I caused a mighty wall to be built on the east side of Babylon. I dug out its moat and I built a scarp with bitumen and bricks. A mighty wall I built on its edge, mountain high. Its broad gateways I set within it and fixed them with double doors of cedar wood overlaid with copper. In order that the enemy who devised (?) evil should not press on the flanks of Babylon, I surrounded it with mighty floods, as is the land with the wave-tossed sea.”
“A great wall which like a mountain cannot be moved I made of mortar and brick …its foundation upon the bosom of the abyss…its top I raised mountain high. I triplicated the city wall in order to strengthen it, I caused a great protecting wall to run at the foot of the wall of burnt brick. Upon the…great gates strong bulls…and terrible serpents ready to strike, I placed…a third great moat-wall…I built with mortar and brick…The produce of the lands, the products of the mountains, the bountiful wealth of the seam, within (Babylon) I gathered…The palace…I rebuilt in Babylon with great cedars I brought from Lebanon, the beautiful forest to roof it…Huge cedars from Lebanon, their forest with my clean hands I cut down. With radiant gold I overlaid them, with jewels I adorned them.”
Large numbers of the building bricks used throughout Babylon were twelve-inch squares with Nebuchadnezzar’s name stamped on them. Many of the bricks were used structurally and therefore the inscriptions could not be seen by anyone, being intended for the eyes of the gods of the day. Other bricks had records of the restoration of the temples of Marduk and Nabu on them.
One of the main streets in Babylon was Procession Street, a 62ft wide street paved with imported stone, running parallel to the Euphrates. The street was called ‘Aibur-Shab’ meaning, ‘the enemy shall never pass.’ Large bricks covered in bitumen and flagstones of limestone and red breccia formed the pavement and every slab had the same inscription on it which said…
“Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, son of Nabopolassar, King of Babylon, am I. The Babil Street I paved with blocks of shadu stone for the procession of the great Lord Marduk. Marduk, Lord, grant eternal life.”
Enamelled tiles were used prolifically throughout the city and there were pictures of bulls and dragons everywhere. On the Gate of Ishtar, it has been calculated that there were at least 575 pictures of bulls, dragons and lions. To the Babylonians, Ishtar was the goddess of love and death and of the evening and morning; she was identified with the planet Venus. Her father was the moon-god, Sin, and her brother the sun god, Shamash.
In entering Babylon, Daniel would have had to pass through one of twenty-five gates that were on each side of the city. The gates were made of solid brass and were strengthened by towers. Between every two gates were four towers and within the city was a multiplicity of false worship systems that sought to dominate an dcontrol the population.
Our Creator and false worship systems
God is our creator and in Jeremiah 31:35-36, we see that it is God’s decrees which regulate the sun, moon and stars, with Psalm 115:16 telling us that “the heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to mankind.” Yet look what we have done with the world.
Man is a covenant being, meaning that we have been made for a relationship with God (Genesis 1:27). If we are not walking with God, we will soon form a relationship with something or someone else in order to overcome our vulnerability, feel secure and take control of our environment. That’s exactly what we find going on in Babylon.
Babylon was a city full of temples and major gateways, which were dedicated to the gods as a means of getting their protection. Yet when a person seeks to protect themselves in this way, they inevitably end up imprisoning themselves.
In seeking to keep the world at bay with our own strength, we place distance between ourselves and our heavenly Father who is the author of life and only One who can set us free in heart and mind. The following story speaks of the power that words can have upon our life and in this case they were good words. In Jesus, we not only have God’s word but also the presence of the One who spoke them. Now to the story:
In her book ‘The Whisper’, Mary Ann Bird, speaks of her difficulties in childhood and how a few words from a teacher changed her life forever.
Mary was born with multiple birth defects including a cleft palate, disfigured face and crooked nose. Many children would ask her what had happened to her and she would usually lie and say, “I fell over” or “I cut my face on glass when I was small.” She was too embarrassed to tell the truth. Because of her disfigurement, she always felt different from other children.
In Mary’s school each year, as in many schools at that time, hearing tests were conducted by the class teacher. The teacher would have the child face a wall and then whisper a few words behind them before getting them to repeat the words. One year Mary was in the class of Miss Leonard when the day for the hearing test arrived. The teacher would usually say something like, “What colour are your shoes?” or “The sky is blue.” Yet as Mary cupped her hand over her good ear and strained to hear what her teacher would say, she heard seven words which she believed God had placed on her teacher’s heart; seven words that changed Mary’s life. The teacher said, “I wish you were my little girl.”
Daniel and his friends are in an empire which was intimidating and caught up in all manner of supernatural activity. Yet in all of this, Daniel and his friends were never going to lose sight of the One who stooped low to enter into a covenant of loving-kindness with His people.
Nebuchadnezzar and his multi-faced building programme
Nebuchadnezzar is into his gods in a big way and his dedication to serving false gods (eg Marduk and Ninurtam the gods of hunting and war, Sin the moon god and Enlil the sky god) was clearly evident throughout his city. In writing about one of the preeminent gods, Nebuchadnezzar said…
“Silver, gold, costly precious stones, bronze, mismakannu, and cedar wood, all conceivable valuables…the product of the mountains, the wealth of the sea, a heavy burden, a sumptuous gift, I brought to my city of Babil before him, and deposited in Esagila, the palace of his lordship, a gigantic abundance. Ekua, in the chamber of Marduk, I made to gleam like the sun. Its walls I clothed with solid gold instead of clay or chalk, with lapis and alabaster the temple area.”
A.Champdor in Babylon page 157
Marduk’s temple was associated with the founding of Babylon and stood closest to a Ziggurat, which would have been a pyramid-like structure with a stairway leading upward upon it. The temple and the Ziggurat symbolised Babylon as the home of the gods and a centre of worship around which the precincts of the capital grew.
The streets of the city ran in straight lines, with all the streets crossing each other at right angles and looking rather like a chessboard. In each square were houses that were generally three to four stories tall.
As previously mentioned, the river Euphrates ran through Babylon and on each side of the river was a quay which was the same thickness as the walls of the city. In the quays were gates of brass and from each gate were steps leading down to the river. Since the Euphrates overflowed during summer months (due to snow melting on mountains of Armenia), two canals were cut in order to turn the course of waters into the Tigris and artificial embankments were raised on each side of the river.
Outside the western side of the city there was a lake which was supposedly circa 40 miles in circumference and excavated to a depth of thirty-five feet deep. The river would be diverted into this at certain times to prevent the city from flooding.
Pagan Palaces and the Temple of God
On one side of Babylon was a fortress with a royal palace and on other was the temple of Belus - a pyramid of eight square towers, one on top of others and with a roundhouse at the top. Three walls surrounded the main palace. The first was 7 miles in circumference, the second 4.5, and the third 2.25. The height of the second wall was 300ft with towers at 420ft. The 2nd and 3rd walls were in coloured brick, representing hunting scenes.
In a very real way, the Palace must have seemed virtually impregnable in an incredibly well-protected city; however it was no match for God. God’s supremacy and mastery over all time is seen, for example, in how He wrote an inscription on the dream-wall of King Belshazzar (Dan 5:5) and brought about the fall of Babylon whilst at the same time keeping Daniel in a prominent position (Daniel 6:1-2).
As believers we should never lose sight of the fact that through Christ, we are seated in heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6), this speaking of our position in Him. In experience we learn to live out what is ours, through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
God’s purpose in this is so that in the fullness of time, we experience the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6-7). Right now we are living stones (1 Peter 2:5) and part of His building programme as those who can receive and grow by virtue of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11, 1 Corinthians 3:16). This growth can come about despite our weakness because our inability is no hindrance to God. The real hindrance comes about when we fail to see that all God asks of us is our availability, or when we seek to live in our own strength.
In the N.T. when we look at the anger of Jesus, we see that it was not directed at the sinners who flocked to Him. Instead it was against those who stood in their own strength and sense of security; yet heaven sees this for what it really is: weakness. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, we see a man who stood in his own strength and a tax collector who confessed his weakness and failure. In doing so he was, as Jesus clearly states, the one who would be raised up.
"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
A small man who was available
In going into one of the most sophisticated and beautiful cities on earth, Daniel must have felt very small, yet he was available to God and was open to all that God had to give. When we are available for God to use, we find that our limitations are overcome as our lives are engaged with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The following story is an example of this.
In his books, ‘The Divine yes’ Dr Stanley Jones writes about the work of a woman who came to Christ in Africa and wanted to do something for Jesus. This woman was blind, seventy-five years old and uneducated, but did not let this hold her back. She took a French bible to a missionary and had the missionary underline John 3:16 in red. She then went and sat in front of a boys’ school and when school was finished, she would call out and ask if they knew French. On finding ones that did, she then asked them to read the passage underscored in her bible and then went on to ask them what they thought the words meant. Invariably they said they did not know and so this uneducated blind old lady then, in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, told them about Jesus. Over the years of her new ministry, many came to Christ and some of them eventually became pastors.
In the opulence and darkness of a world super-power, Daniel knew that he was known by the One who sees all things and regards nothing as trivial in His universe.
Turning the camera back to Babylon, we note another description of the city by the historian Herodotus. In it we read of one of the towers built to reach the gods. On top of this particular tower was a temple where the so-called god would appear.
“The centre of each division of the town was occupied by a fortress. In the one stood the palace of the kings, surrounded by a wall of great strength and size: in the other was the sacred precinct of Jupiter Belus, square enclosure two furlongs each way, with gates of solid brass, which was also remaining in my time. In the middle of the precinct there was a tower of solid masonry upon which was raised a second tower, and on that a third tower, and so on up to eight. The ascent to the top is on the outside, by a path which winds round all the towers. When one is about half-way up, one finds a resting-place and seats, where persons are wont to sit some time on their way to the summit. On the top most tower there is a spacious temple and inside the temple stands a couch of unusual size, richly adorned with a golden table by its side…they also declare, but I for my part do not credit it – that the god comes down in person into this chamber, and sleeps upon the couch.”
A. Champdor, Babylon p 126-127
Man reaches up to the gods, yet we serve a God who reaches down
Man-made religion is all about reaching up to a god or gods and how one goes about earning blessing from them. Yet true religion, as seen throughout the Bible, always begins with God’s approach to man. For example, God reaches out to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and reaches into Egypt to remove his people from an illegitimate rulership which sought to dominate and abuse.
It is God who stood with Joshua and instructed him as to how the walls of Jericho, a military outpost city were to come down. Yet it is also God who allowed His Son to be ridiculed and tortured as He stood in our place so that by way of incredible divine exchange, we could enter heaven.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
2 Corinthians 8:9
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the man at Gethsemane
According to many ancient historians, the hanging gardens of Babylon were one of the wonders of the Ancient World. The gardens were constructed by Nebuchadnezzar for his wife, Queen Amytis, and were meant to depict the elevated groves she would have been used to seeing in her native land (Babylon was flat!).
Nebuchadnezzar’s power and wealth knew no bounds and he built large mountains that towered over the 300ft walls of the city with flights of stairs going up from terrace to terrace in all different directions. Each terrace was raised on piers, with flat stones (16ft long and 4ft wide) being laid on the piers and then beds of matting and bitumen being laid upon them. On top of this were two courses of bricks which were covered in sheets of lead. Earth was heaped on these platforms and hollow piers were also made to hold the roots of some of the large trees. The water of the Euphrates was then drawn up mechanically to keep the soil moist.
According to eyewitness accounts these artificial mounds appeared, from a distance, as woods overhanging mountains. Yet it was in a very different Garden where real power conflated with grace and mercy in Jesus.
Think about it! Jesus, the All-Powerful One, allowed Himself to be betrayed and arrested at the instigation of the religious people of His day. He was present at the very beginning of the world (John 1:1f) and is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev 19:16) yet He willingly stood in our place (Hebrews 12:2).
In Genesis we read of a world created for man with man being placed in Eden, meaning ‘delight.’ Many centuries later we have, in the Garden of Gethsemane, we find the One, who in His life, death and resurrection, was prepared to go through isolation, betrayal by friends, degradation at the hands of a powerful enemy and a horrific death – for us. Yet even as the events leading up to the death of the Incarnate Son were played out, God still continued to speak in such a way that all men could come to Him, even a thief on a cross (Luke 23:43).
At His arrest, we see the last miracle of healing before Calvary - the healing of an enemy (Luke 22:47-51). God also spoke into the life of Pilate’s wife through a dream, revealing to her that Jesus was innocent (Matthew 27:19). In the cock crowing three times, we have Peter being reminded that Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen, yet had not turned away from Peter. In the darkness that came about from the sixth to the ninth hour, priests would not have been able to perform their religious duty (Luke 23:44) and perhaps think why. The truth was that there was no need for the sacrifices because the One to whom the sacrificial lamb pointed was giving his life right then and there outside the city wall. At Jesus’ death the Temple veil was torn in two (Mark 15:38) with the entrance into the holy of holies now being through the true Judge of the world who opens the door to heaven through Jesus. We also read that tombs broke open and the bodies of holy people were raised to life and testified to many about Jesus (Matthew 27:52-54). Even during the mock-up trial, ridicule, torture and death of Christ, God was still willing to reach out through all manner of activities to point us to Him. Superpowers come and superpowers go and the hanging gardens of Babylon are nothing but a dustbowl, but the One who agonised in the Garden of Gethsemane still rules over all.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Palace and prophetic words from God
Three circular walls surrounded Nebuchadnezzar’s palace which was decorated with statues of men and animals and gold artefacts from Nebuchadnezzar’s conquests. The entrance into the palace was through large gates, which along with others, were made of bronze. Isaiah mentions both the gates and the treasures of the Palace in one of his prophecies….
“This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armour, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”
Prophecy takes many forms and is a reminder to us all that ultimately, God is in control and only He knows the future. In a world where there is so much going on and where plans can easily trap the planner, we need to entrust our lives to the Great Shepherd on a daily basis. He knows what we need (Matthew 6:33) and what we need most is the presence of the Holy Spirit.
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand.”
In his dealings with both Judah and Babylon, God is going to speak to Nebuchadnezzar through dreams and miracles; yet it would require Daniel, to interpret the dreams. Nebuchadnezzar was told that his kingdom was one of many in history and would not last (Dan 2ff). Yet in a kingdom steeped in idolatry and in the life of a wayward Judah, God was still about His business of reconciliation and restoration.
We would do well to remember that the purpose of God’s judgment is to put things back into order; to bring them back into alignment; to restore harmony to His World. Therefore, judgement is an act of grace towards a fallen world by the One who sent His Son into the world, not to condemn it, but to offer salvation (John 3:16-17).
Let us now turn to Daniel whose name means “God is my Judge” and see a message that is abundantly clear throughout the book of Daniel: God rules the kingdoms of men.