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6th August, 2007

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Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus — servants of God?

Living in the 21st century can be a real drag. Nobody today, it would seem, gives anything but the most fleeting thought to Him who always has been and always will be, to Him who holds the breath of each one of us in His hands (Dan. 5:23). Billions of us have come and gone, but He remains. What would one give, sometimes, to have lived centuries ago when that One God made a name for Himself (Jeremiah 32:20). Those would have been interesting times! Jeremiah may well have been privy to an unbelievable chapter of history — humble reverence for God on the part of a couple of history's mightiest rulers.

Shortly after Jeremiah spoke of God's renown, all his family and friends — the nation of the Jews — were taken into Babylonian captivity because of their sins against their God. While they pondered the cause of their misfortune, the leader of the Babylonian Empire, Nebuchadnezzar, was humbled mightily by their God. God took away his powers of rational thought so that for seven years he roamed the fields with cattle, eating grass and growing long hair and finger nails (Dan. 4:33). When his senses returned to him, Nebuchadnezzar issued this stirring decree:

And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, "What have You done?… Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice… (Dan. 4:34-37).

Can you imagine Vladimir Putin or George Bush making such a confession today? Oh that they would! But Nebuchadnezzar's “conversion” was just the beginning. Almost two centuries earlier the prophet Isaiah had foretold the coming of an even greater king who would be responsible for humbling the entire kingdom of Babylon:

Thus says the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held — to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut: I will go before you and make

the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron (45:1-2).

Never before had God foretold the coming of a person of significance by name. This man was destined to “break in pieces the gates” of Babylon. In 539 B.C., Cyrus “the Great” conquered impregnable Babylon by diverting the Euphrates River that flowed under the walls of the city so that his army was able to march in and take the city by surprise. The birth and early years of this man's life, recounted in Herodotus's history, make for riveting reading.

Although the famous “Cyrus Cylinder”, discovered under the walls of a ruined Babylonian temple, give the impression that Cyrus worshiped Marduk and other Babylonian gods (see below), the truth is that he feared and revered the God of Israel!

This author accepts the theory held by some scholars that Cyrus the Great is one and the same person as “Darius the Median” spoken of in the book of Daniel. Cyrus became very familiar with Daniel, a Jew who was living in Babylonian captivity. Cyrus loved Daniel so much that when he was tricked by his jealous officials into condemning Daniel to be thrown to the lions he became sick at heart and could not sleep all night (Dan. 6:18). Early the next morning he sped to the lions' den to see whether Daniel had survived. He was utterly overjoyed when he found Daniel alive and well. If Cyrus had previously harbored any doubts about the identity of the true God, he didn't now:

Then King Darius wrote: To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God, and steadfast forever; His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall endure to the end. He delivers and rescues, and He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, Who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.

This same Cyrus issued a decree allowing the exiled Jews in Babylon to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the destroyed temple (Ezra 1:1-4). If only leaders today would bow before Daniel's God as Cyrus did and support the building of a place for worshiping Him. Just maybe they will before this age comes to a close. Hasten the day.

Excerpts from the Cyrus Cylinder

An incompetent person was installed to exercise lordship over his [Marduk's — the chief Babylonian god] country… Irreverently, he put an end to the regular offerings (and) he interfered  in the cultic centers… By his own plan, he did away with the worship of Marduk, the king of the gods, he continually did evil against Marduk's city… Upon hearing their cries, the lord of the gods became furiously angry… He examined and checked all the entirety of the lands, all of them, he searched everywhere and then he took a righteous king, his favorite, by the hand, he called out his name: Cyrus, king of Anšan; he pronounced his name to be king all over the world… Marduk, the great lord, guardian of his people, looked with gladness upon his good deeds and upright heart. He ordered him to go to his city Babylon. He set him on the road to Babylon and like a companion and a friend, he went at his side… He made him enter his city Babylon without fighting or battle; he saved Babylon from hardship. He delivered Nabonidus, the king who did not revere him, into his hands. All the people of Babylon, all the land of Sumer and Akkad, princes and governors, bowed to him and kissed his feet. They rejoiced at his kingship and their faces shone… I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, mighty king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters… When I entered Babylon in a peaceful manner, I took up my lordly abode in the royal palace amidst rejoicing and happiness. Marduk, the great lord, established as his fate for me a magnanimous heart of one who loves Babylon, and I daily attended to his worship… He sent gracious blessing upon me, Cyrus, the king who worships him, and upon Cambyses, the son who is [my] offspring, [and up]on all my army…

The tone and theology of this passage deviates somewhat from the biblical account. We should approach profane records with some skepticism. "Presidential advisers" and political spin doctors plied their trade then just as now. Note what one web site says:

We may speculate that Cyrus considered himself to be on a divine mission under guidance of Ahuramazda, and we can assume that the Babylonian clerk who wrote down this text changed this into Marduk, the name of his own supreme god.

Consider the possibility that Cyrus considered himself to be on a divine mission under guidance from the God of Daniel!

The Cyrus Cylinder: British Museum


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