Three kings of powerful, non-Jewish nations brought about events in ancient times, at God’s prompting, that set in motion the promised latter-day restoration of Israel.
Over a period of exactly 70 years Pharaoh Necho II of Egypt, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and Emperor Koresh (Cyrus) the Great of Persia acted as God’s agents to both end Judah’s ancient sovereignty and begin the Jewish people’s modern return to the promised land. From 609 BCE and the death of Judah’s King Josiah, to 539 BCE and the Persian invasion of Babylon, God directed the decision-making of Necho, Nebuchadnezzar and Koresh the Great.
In this, part two of a two-part study, Defending Nebuchadnezzar, I had promised in a previous blog entry to examine “the geopolitical havoc that drove Nebuchadnezzar to madness, [his] obsessing over Egypt and … his decision to put a savage end to the sovereignty of ancient Israel.” (See Part One.) But according to the Second Book of Kings, it was not wholly Nebuchadnezzar’s choice to destroy Israel but, “the commandment of the Lord to remove them [Judah] out of his sight.”
While researching the Book of Daniel (for the development of my novel, For The Sake of His Name), it became clear that Nebuchadnezzar was only one of at least three, powerful, non-Jewish rulers who were divinely inspired to facilitate the central drama of biblical history, the end of the ancient Jewish state (and the beginning of its latter day restoration).
I’ve reduced the scope of this post to discuss only the “ordained” roles in Israel’s history of these three kings for two reasons…
1. It’s a fascinating study. For example, the time interval from the action of the first inspired king, Pharaoh Necho II, to the intervention of the last, Koresh the Great, is exactly seventy years and Jeremiah’s well-known prophecy of the duration of the Babylonian Captivity was also 70 years.
This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.” Jer 29:10
So we find two distinctly different, but parallel, 70-year manifestations of divine will.
2. It’s my blog and I can change the rules as I please without suffering serious consequences.
I. Pharaoh Necho’s Odd Directive from the Hebrew God
The Northern Kingdom of Israel fell after a final invasion of Assyria in 722 BCE, 123 years before Josiah, king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, died in battle against Pharaoh Necho II of Egypt. (The fall of the Northern Kingdom is the central event in my upcoming novel, Faithless Heart, the last of a three-novel series, to be published sometime in 2016.)
In the 24th chapter of the Second Book of Kings, consider…
In the eighteenth year of his rule [623 BCE], Josiah ordered the High Priest Hilkiah to use the tax money which had been collected over the years to renovate the temple. It was during this time that Hilkiah discovered the Book of the Law. 2Ki 24:3 (link)
Hilkiah’s discovery of what scholars believe to be all or part of the Book of Deuteronomy led Josiah to initiate significant religious reforms…
…all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord. Now before him [Josiah] there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him. 2Ki 23:24-25
Under Josiah, the southern kingdom seemed to be on safe and stable ground but Josiah’s sincere repentance and firm leadership were not enough…
Nevertheless the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of his great wrath, with which his anger was aroused against Judah… 2Ki 23:26
And so, in 609 BCE, for reasons known only to God, Josiah decided to deter Necho’s army as it headed north to assist Egypt’s natural enemy, Assyria, against Babylon. (Babylon’s forces at that time were led by the then 29-years old General Nebuchadnezzar II, soon to be that nation’s infamous king and principal sponsor of the Babylonian Captivity.)
The Book of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 35:20-27) relates that Josiah was fatally wounded by Egyptian archers and was brought back to Jerusalem to die. His death was a result of “not listen[ing] to what Necho had said at God’s command…” when Necho said…
“What quarrel is there between you and me, O king of Judah? It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at war. God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.” (NIV) (emphasis added) (link)
Josiah did not heed Necho’s warning and so it was that he, the last competent and godly king of Judah, died while opposing what Necho claimed to be the God of Israel’s will. Just four years later, in 605, the end of sovereign Judah began with Babylon’s abduction of Daniel and the looting of the Lord’s temple treasures. (Daniel 1 ff)
II. Nebuchadnezzar’s similar role as God’s instrument
In his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his vassal for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. And the LORD sent against him raiding bands of Chaldeans, bands of Syrians, bands of Moabites, and bands of the people of Ammon; He sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD which he had spoken by his servants the prophets. Surely at the commandment of the Lord this came upon Judah, to remove them from his sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done… (emphasis added) 2Ki 24:1-3
The message is clear. “He (the God of Israel) sent them [Babylon] against Judah to destroy it.” There is much more in scripture supporting the notion that Judah’s extinction and submission to Babylon was God’s intent. For example…
And this whole land [Judah] shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Jer 25:11
“And afterward,” says the LORD, “I will deliver Zedekiah king of Judah, his servants and the people, and such as are left in this city from the pestilence and the sword and the famine, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of those who seek their life; and he shall strike them with the edge of the sword. He shall not spare them, or have pity or mercy.” Jer 21:7 (emphasis added)
…behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ says the Lord, ‘and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, against its inhabitants, and against these nations all around, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, a hissing, and perpetual desolations. Jer 25:9 (emphasis added)
After Necho and Nebuchadnezzar brought about the end of Jewish sovereignty, Koresh the Great, similarly inspired, set in motion the latter day restoration of the Jews.
III. Persia, Koresh the Great and the Restoration of Israel
Koresh the Great and Persia, we know with historical certainty, conquered Babylon in a virtually bloodless invasion in 539 BCE (exactly seventy years after King Josiah died in Judah) and shortly afterward ended the Babylonian Captivity by releasing the Jewish exiles taken captive in the days of Nebuchadnezzar.
But while researching For The Sake of His Name I began to question how Persia developed the ability to accomplish such a thing, given its relative newness. According to Wikipedia (and other sources)…
The first [Persian Empire] was established by Cyrus the Great in 550 BC, with the Persian conquest of Media, Lydia and Babylonia. (link)
Here is the problem. Before that time, Persia was a vassal state of the Medes. In order to fulfill its destiny regarding Israel, Persia seems to have miraculously risen out of the mists as a powerful nation state, having previously been outclassed and out-manned by old line Media, Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. (Much the same can be said for Macedonia and Alexander the Great, much later, but that’s a different story.)
While ancient Assyria had terrorized the Levant with a standing army of tens of thousands and the Neo-Babylonian Empire was later able to assemble and supply armies on the order of 100,000, the sudden Persian army of Koresh the Great was on the order of “500,000 spearmen, archers and mounted warriors,” according to one estimate and upwards of 2 million according to others.
Either estimate of Persian military might dwarfed the largest standing armies of their rivals.
How did Persia gain such an advantage in administrative and logistical skills virtually over night? History credits the genius of Koresh. The Prophet Isaiah credited the God of Israel…
Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus [Koresh], whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him…I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. Isa 45:1-3
In Ezra 1:2-4, Koresh himself credited the God of Israel for his success and direction . “The decree of Cyrus, as set forth by Ezra, contains the following elements:
- Jehovah is the God of heaven.
- By the providential operation of God, Cyrus had been given his international dominion.
- The God of the Hebrews had charged the Persian ruler to “build him a house” [temple] in Jerusalem of Judah.
- The Israelite people would be free to return to their homeland to engage this enterprise.
- Finances to assist with the endeavor were to be provided by the Persians among whom the Jews resided.
- It is noted further that the “timing” of this decree was in accordance with a prophecy uttered by Jeremiah (Ezra 1:1).”
- (See, The Cyrus Decree, which discusses the archaeological record supporting the above bullet points.)
Immediately after the prophet, Jeremiah, pronounced God’s judgment upon sovereign Israel in Jer 16:13 I will … cast you out of this land into a land that ye know not, neither ye nor your fathers; and there shall ye serve other gods day and night; where I will not shew you favor, he delivers the following prophecy…
Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord lives that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt but, the Lord lives that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers. Jer 16-14-15
Israel’s destruction, subsequent exile and miraculous modern restoration are clearly outlined in the Tenach (Old Testament). Pharaoh Necho II, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and Emperor Koresh the Great of Persia, were God’s instruments in the latter day restoration of the Jews in modern Israel.
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