By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy. (Psalm 137, NIV)
From Casablanca (1942)
Renault: And what in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Renault: The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.
Jeremiah was a prophet of the Lord to the kingdom of Judah. He started his public ministry under King Josiah in 627 BC, going to beyond the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, possibly finishing up in 561 BC in Babylon. His primary ministry was one of speaking forth God’s judgment on His own people. The northern kingdom, Israel, had fallen to Assyria in 722 BC; the southern kingdom, Judah, was ripe for judgment in Jeremiah’s day. And despite a national revival under Josiah, the turnaround was only temporary. The sins of God’s people were so vile that God had finally had enough – judgment was to be severe.
That’s what God tasked Jeremiah to do: the prophet was to preach a continuous stream of bad news to the unfaithful nation. God told Jeremiah, however, that the people will not listen to him: “When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer. Therefore say to them, ‘This is the nation that has not obeyed the LORD its God or responded to correction. Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips.” (Jeremiah 7: 27 – 28 NIV)
The people of Judah had done something that even pagan nations didn’t do: they turned away from their God and tried to replace Him with their human efforts.
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2: 13 NIV)
It didn’t work, then… and it can’t work now. To quote the greatest Free-thinker among our Founding Fathers, the honorable Benjamin Franklin, when the Constitutional Convention met an impasse in 1787: “And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel:…” Amen, Brother Ben!
The Congress heard him – prayers began to be offered to open their sessions, and they continue to be offered to this day. Out of that came the greatest document of human governance ever devised, the United States Constitution. Unfortunately, Jeremiah’s nation did NOT listen to him – and they were destroyed by the greatest nation on Earth at that time, led by one of the greatest leaders in the history of the world.
And who were they? As anybody who is a student of Bible history knows, the nation was Babylon, and the leader was Nebuchadnezzar. And he was, indeed, a great leader. He conquered all the nations around him, including Egypt, but the Scriptures focus on his conquest of Judah, and, specifically, his siege and final devastation of Jerusalem. That conquest and devastation culminated in the utter destruction of the great Temple of Yahweh, the magnificent building that Solomon had built.
Much of the book of Jeremiah involves that event – it is prophesied, then it occurs. The book of Lamentations is a collection of Jeremiah’s meditations as an eyewitness to the awful results of Jerusalem’s obliteration. God had finally poured out His wrath on His own people!
How great a king was Nebuchadnezzar? We know a lot about him, actually, from archeological evidence, but mostly from the Scriptures. He’s mentioned frequently in the Bible by name, being referred to by the Lord as “my servant”. (For example, in Jeremiah 25:9, God is quoted as saying: “I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin.”) Not only that, but he also was given the incredible privilege of actually writing a chapter in the Bible: Daniel, Chapter 4.
One other way we know how great Nebuchadnezzar was is from Daniel, Chapter 2. The great image of the king’s dream, remember, represented the various kingdoms of world history from that time. The head of gold – and each subsequent part of the image was made of a progressively less valuable metal – represented himself. He was as great a king as gold is more precious than silver, then bronze, then iron, then iron mixed with clay. He was so great that he became extremely proud of himself – that’s the part he wrote about in Daniel 4. For his pride, God took his sanity from him until he repented. It took seven years of living outside and acting like an animal, but he did repent. He also praised God and declared Him to be completely right in what He did. Here’s how Daniel 4 ends:
At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes towards heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives for ever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: ‘What have you done?’
At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.
Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Daniel 4: 34 – 37, NIV)
Another reason that Nebuchadnezzar was a great king was that he ruled over the known world at the time and lived in the most splendid city anywhere on the planet at the time, Babylon. Babylon was also where many former inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem – including Daniel himself – were living after God used Nebuchadnezzar to send His people into exile. Look up the details of what it was like in the 6th century BC – it was an amazing place. Just the fact that one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World was there (the Hanging Gardens of – where else? – Babylon, which was essentially an air-conditioning system. He also had the amazing Ishtar Gate built during his reign, which was also considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World when it was built). By any measure of greatness, Babylon was magnificent.
So, what happened? Today, Babylon is a barren desert wasteland, almost completely devoid of life. From Wikipedia: “All that remains of the original ancient famed city of Babylon today is a large mound, or tell, of broken mud-brick buildings and debris in the fertile Mesopotamian plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.” Its ruins had even been lost until the 19th century (”The first reported archaeological excavation of Babylon was conducted by Claudius James Rich in 1811–12”) It wasn’t until Saddam Hussein began his attempt to rebuild it in the 1980’s that it was anything but a wasteland.
Babylon apparently began a long period of decline following its conquest by the Medes and the Persians in 539 BC. Its historical decline continued with its conquest by the Greeks under Alexander in the 4th century BC. Secular historians suggest that the downfall of the city – well, the entire “Fertile Crescent” region of Mesopotamia – was brought on by too many people using the limited water resources of the area, leading to the dried-up region we have today. “Too much irrigation”, they say. But that doesn’t make sense, really. Weren’t there a large number of people living in that region previously? There is a long history before the 6th century BC in that area – Abraham lived in “Ur of the Chaldees” before 2000 BC, about 1500 years before the fall detailed in Daniel, Chapter 5.
There were reports of Babylon after the days of Jesus – Peter even mentions Babylon in 1 Peter 5:13 “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, …” The interpretation of that varies from being a reference to Rome (as if it were a wicked city like ancient Babylon), a city in Egypt named Babylon that Peter may have been ministering in, or the real city between the Tigris and the Euphrates. Without a doubt, however, the city was on its last legs, soon to be superseded and replaced in the region by the city of Baghdad.
So, again – what happened? My hypothesis – paradigm, really – is that Babylon’s great rivers had been gradually drying up for a long time before Nebuchadnezzar, not because of human activity, but because of natural processes. Now, of course, it was still the plan of God, even though it was natural – God created all natural laws and they are under His sovereign control. Here it is: I believe the Ice Age ended, not 10,000 years ago (as evolution teaches), but within historical times. After the Flood of Noah’s day, Earth’s climate was cooler overall due to the loss of the antediluvian water canopy. This led to what we refer to as the Ice Age, where there were large areas to the north and to the south which were covered with large sheets of ice. These gradually melting sheets of ice provided abundant water for the places where people lived in those days – Mesopotamia, Egypt, Mesoamerica, China, India, Canaan, and so on. The climates were temperate, with abundant water. These were just the right conditions for the post-Flood civilizations to develop and thrive.
But, in Mesopotamia – well, let’s just say that “the handwriting was on the wall.” As the ice sheets melted, the climate warmed, and the flow of water into the entire Middle East got less and less until – yes, the populations could no longer be supported. And so, as history attests, people moved away into regions that had better water flow. As the Tigris and Euphrates became trickles compared to the surging, life-giving rivers they once were, the once-mighty city of Babylon died a slow death. In the early centuries AD, it was completely abandoned.
So – how did Jeremiah know all this? When he died, somewhere in the 6th century BC, Babylon ruled the civilized world. While some skeptics doubt the authenticity of parts of Isaiah and all of Daniel (with no proof – but that’s a story for another time), no one – reasonably – doubts the authenticity of Jeremiah’s book. So, how did he know?
Listen to Jeremiah 50: 12a – 13:
“She will be the least of the nations—
a wilderness, a dry land, a desert.
Because of the LORD’s anger she will not be inhabited
but will be completely desolate.
All who pass Babylon will be appalled;
they will scoff because of all her wounds.”
And, after pronouncing His judgment on Babylon, the Lord speaks through the prophet in Jeremiah 50: 38 – 40:
“A drought on her waters!
They will dry up.
For it is a land of idols,
idols that will go mad with terror.
“So desert creatures and hyenas will live there,
and there the owl will dwell.
It will never again be inhabited
or lived in from generation to generation.
As I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah
along with their neighboring towns,”
declares the LORD,
“so no one will live there;
no people will dwell in it.”
Once again: how did Jeremiah know any of this? This is the Babylon of today: a barren, desolate, completely uninhabited waste-land, not the greatest, most vibrant city on the planet in his day. The answer– the answer Jeremiah himself would have given – is obvious: God knows the future. The Scriptures say “He knows the end from the beginning”. (Isaiah 46: 10) The only way Jeremiah would have known it is because God told him. It is that simple.
Not human wisdom… not scientific analysis… not a good hunch… There is no way Jeremiah could have known the fate of Babylon. What an amazingly accurate prophesy from an amazingly wise God! And it’s in the Bible for all to see – or, at least, for those who have eyes to see. No “post-daters” need apply.