From Sovereign to Saint

Babylonian Chronicle Supplements Biblical Records

Alger F. Johns, Professor of Old Testament History, Andrews University



IN THE days of the prophet Jeremiah the professed people of God had wandered so far away from Him that the prophet finally brought them the message recorded in Jere­miah 25, verses 8 and 9:

Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Because ye have not heard my words, Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the Lord, and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these na­tions round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations.

How is it that this monarch of the great Babylonian Empire is called here the ser­vant of God? Actually, Nebuchadrezzar, or Nebuchadnezzar, as he is elsewhere less cor­rectly known, was a very important Old Testament character. He is mentioned by name in the Bible more frequently than any other so-called heathen king. Who is this Nebuchadrezzar that the Bible speaks so much about? None other than the mighty monarch of the dominant empire of that time, the Babylonian Empire. We can answer this question about Nebuchad­rezzar much better now than we could years ago. Since 1956 and the publication of the important documents known as the Babylonian Chronicle we have much in­formation that supplements the Biblical records. When we study this important Old Testament character, in reality we are studying about the love of God and how God seeks to bring a human soul to salva­tion.

Nebuchadrezzar's father was Nabopolas­sar, a Chaldean prince or noble who was appointed by Sin-shar-ishkun, the king of Assyria, as governor over the sea lands down near the Persian Gulf, the southern part of Babylonia.

With the death of Kandalanu, who was the governor over the city of Babylon, Nabopolassar led out in a rebellion against Assyria and eventually took over southern Mesopotamia, and in the year 626 B.C. founded the Neo-Babylonian or the so-called Chaldean Empire. AVe do not know for sure, but it was probably shortly after this that Nebuchadrezzar was born, born into a Chaldean family, born into idolatry, into heathen worship. His father, Nabo­polassar, gave him the name Nebuchadrez­zar, after the patron god Naha, the chief god of Borsippa in the temple of Ezidu. Borsippa was a city some 12 miles away from Babylon.

Turning to political history, we find that Babylon still needed to subdue Assyria, and apparently, from the records, there was a working agreement with the Medes. When Nebuchadrezzar was about 11 years old his father concluded a formal treaty with Cyaxares, king of the Medes. The world was divided into spheres of influ­ence much as the great powers sometimes seek to do today. Babylon received that portion of the Mediterranean world that was south of the northern bend of the Eu­phrates. Media received that which was east of the river and north of the northern bend, including Armenia. Apparently this alliance worked successfully for some time.

The Hills of Home

The Babylonian Chronicle does not say, but this would have been a logical time for them to have concluded the agreement for a marriage alliance between the Babylo­nians and the Medes, because we know from history that Nebuchadrezzar later on had a Median princess for his wife. We are familiar with the fact that those marvel­ous Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, were built by Nebuchadrezzar to please his wife, the Median princess who got tired of the flat country of Babylonia and longed for something of the hills of home. We do not know whether the alliance was concluded with a marriage agreement at this time or not, but at least there was a political alli­ance.

Two years later, in the year 612 B.C., the combined armies of the Babylonians and the Medes captured Nineveh. Another five years went by and we find the young crown prince Nebuchadrezzar appearing for the first time in the military field of battle, leading some of the armies of his father. We can conclude that he was probably about 18 years old. In 605 B.C. when he was about 20 years old he was given sole command over all the Babylonian ar­mies in the field, while his father, who was ill, remained home in Babylon. This was the year that Nebuchadrezzar led out in a brilliant victory over the Egyptian hosts who had been helping the remnants of Assyria. This victory is known as the Battle of Carchemish.

To what was this victory due? Was it due to the young prince and his military genius alone? Was it due to the fact that he may have had bigger armies than his father had? Or was it due to the fact that his father wore down the enemy, and he just came in and received the final victory? It could have been that God had a purpose through it all, and so gave him the victory over the Egyp­tian armies. Who knows? The Bible does not tell us.

But the Babylonian records state that he quickly took over the Hatti country (the Babylonian name for Palestine, Syria, and Phoenicia—all of the land between ancient Assyria and the country of Egypt). All the kings there had to acknowledge Nebu­chadrezzar as their sovereign—all, includ­ing Jehoiachim, king of Judah. These kings furnished hostages for their good behavior. Nebuchadrezzar took prisoners, not only from Judah but also from Edom and Moab and the Phoenician and Philis­tine cities. And among these hostages were some of the worshipers of the true God.

18-Year-Old Taken Captive

It was at this time that Daniel and his three companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, were taken captive. These were princes of the Jewish royal line, the line of David. Daniel was about 18 years old at the time that he was taken captive. We do not know Nebuchadrezzar's plans at this mo­ment, but before going on to Egypt he heard that his father had died in Babylon. Leaving the prisoners and the plunder and the tribute in the hands of his generals, he hurried home to secure the throne, because he had at least one brother that is men­tioned in the Babylonian records by name, and he didn't know what intrigue might have taken place in his absence.

Nebuchadrezzar's father, Nabopolassar, died on August 15, 605 B.C. Nebuchadrez­zar arrived home shortly after and he found that all was quiet. The succession to the throne had been preserved for him by his friends in Babylon, and he took over the throne in approximately 605 B.C.

I think we are all familiar with the events recorded in Daniel 1. When the generals brought the hostages and captives later to Babylon we find young Daniel and his three companions introduced into the court of this heathen king. The king hon­ored them by giving them the same food that was provided for the royal palace. We read in Testimonies, volume 4, page 570:

Daniel was but eighteen years old when brought into a heathen court in service to the king of Babylon, and because of his youth his noble resist­ance of wrong and his steadfast adherence to the right are the more admirable. His noble example should bring strength to the tried and tempted, even at the present day.

Now we see God's purpose. God had His witnesses in the court of this king. The great God of heaven desired that the hea­then round about Judah accept Him, as well as the people of Judah. He loved them all, but apparently this didn't impress Neb­uchadrezzar too much at this time. We don't know how much personal contact Nebuchadrezzar had with these hostages at first, even though he honored them. The youthful monarch was busy; the Babylo­nian account says he was here and there in the Hatti country getting the tribute, and when one city resisted—Ashkelon of the Philistine country—that city was destroyed.

Two years later Nebuchadrezzar person­ally examined these youthful hostages, not only the Jewish ones but also the ones from all the other countries that he had overrun in conquest. Daniel would now be twenty years old.

Graduated Summa Cum Laude

All of these hostages had been trained in the wisdom and skill of the Babylonians, wisdom that had been handed down for centuries. When we study some of the records we realize that the courts of Babylon and the schools of Babylon were unexcelled in learning at this time of the earth's his­tory. The record states that Daniel was a good student. In fact, at that graduation I suppose he would have graduated summa cum laude, because we read in Daniel 1, verse 20, "And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king enquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm." What a testimony! I wish we had more Daniels today.

But apparently the spiritual knowledge and the spiritual message did not make too deep an impression upon King Nebuchad­rezzar at this time, for we find that God had to work a miracle in order to reach his heart. Later, in this same year, he had the dream recorded in Daniel 2. Nebuchad­rezzar had been planning a major assault, an invasion of Egypt, and he was wonder­ing what would happen to this young Neo­Babylonian Empire, an empire founded by his father. How long would it last? He was wondering about these things, and God showed him the future of the world as re­corded in Daniel 2.

We know what happened next. None of the wise men could tell him his dream, and he became so angry at their deceit and duplicity he was going to kill this whole class of pretenders. Unfortunately, Daniel and his three companions, having gradu­ated so recently from the Babylonian schools, would be included in this class. Then Daniel prayed for time. He prayed for divine wisdom from the God of heaven, and he was able to tell this monarch what the dream was and what it meant. Here they were, confronting each other, two young men—one the representative of hea­thenism, in the highest position that this world could offer at that time; the other, Daniel, the young prophet, the servant of God.

Nebuchadrezzar's heart was touched. He saw that there really was a God of heaven who could read the secrets of men's minds and could foretell what would happen in future times, and he was constrained at that time to acknowledge Jehovah, the God of heaven, as the sovereign of the universe. NVe read in Daniel 2:46 and 47:

Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him. The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret.

Oh, I can imagine what astonishment there must have been in the court that day when this sovereign to whom all other hu­man knees would bow, bowed himself down to Daniel in worship, not really to Daniel, but to the God of Daniel, because we find no record of Nebuchadrezzar's bow­ing to Daniel again. Daniel probably set him right quickly. Daniel was put in a high position as a result of this experience and now he could really witness for his God. And his companions, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were placed in lesser posi­tions.

But what of another witness of God, King Jehoiakim, king of the Jews, king of Judah, king of the Hebrew people, the two tribes of the south? He too was a pro­fessed worshiper of Jehovah. He had prom­ised to be a faithful vassal to Nebuchad­rezzar. God had a work for him to do. I read in Prophets and Kings, pages 437, 438:

It was God's purpose that Jehoiakim should heed the counsels of Jeremiah, and thus win favor in the eyes of Nebuchadnezzar, and save him­self much sorrow. The youthful king had sworn allegiance to the Babylonian ruler; and had he re­mained true to his promise, he would have com­manded the respect of the heathen, and this would have led to precious opportunities for the con­version of souls.

But sad to say, according to the Bible record he did not do it.

We do know that in 601 B.C. Jehoiakim paid tribute. Babylonian records state that Nebuchadrezzar was in the Hatti country again, and the Bible says that Jehoiakim served Nebuchadrezzar faithfully for three years (which would be until 599 B.C.), but rebelled in the next year (2 Kings 24:1, 2). What impact must this have had on the mind of King Nebuchadrezzar, the broken word of one of the worshipers of God in heaven. But perhaps he was a wise king—some other records of his dealings seem to indicate that. Perhaps he said to himself, "Oh, well, it's not so bad; we find one bad fellow in every group. This Jehoiakim may have been among the worshipers of Je­hovah, but they are not all like him. There is Daniel, and the others that I have met. They are true men: they are staunch; I have every confidence in them." And so it may well have been that he excused this defection; but God did not excuse Jehoiakim. We read in the Bible record in 2 Kings 24:2 that the Lord punished him. Oh, yes, the Lord used human agencies, human armies, some of the bands of soldiers that were faithful to Nebuchadrezzar.

And the Lord sent against him [against Jehoia­kim] bands of the ChaIdees, and bands of the Syri­ans, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the children of Ammon, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by his servants the prophets (2 Kings 24:2).

Although the exact circumstances of Je­hoiakim's death are somewhat obscure, suf­ficient data are preserved to give us a good general idea of what happened. Jeremiah had prophesied of Jehoiakim as follows: "They shall not lament for him. . . . He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (Jer. 22:18, 19). Obviously, this prophecy would never have survived in Biblical tradition had it not been sub­stantially fulfilled in the circumstances of Jehoiakim's death. It very well may have been that if he were captured by either the Moabites or the Ammonites or the Ara­maeans, or even by the Chaldean field armies of Nebuchadrezzar's forces, after his capture he was mistreated and killed and received the burial the prophets said he would receive. On the other hand, had he been a royal captive of Nebuchadrezzar in person, he might possibly have been car­ried captive to Babylon and his life spared, although possibly he might have been sub­jected to torture. The Bible does state that Nebuchadrezzar (probably through the agency of his armies) bound him to take him to Babylon, but the Bible refrains from saying that he was actually taken there (see 2 Chron. 36:6).

(To be continued)

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Alger F. Johns, Professor of Old Testament History, Andrews University



July 1967

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