Nebuchadnezzar: The king of kings

There are a great many valuable lessons we can learn from Nebuchadnezzar’s life; and in the following series of articles I intend to draw some out and apply them to our day and age. So join me as we explore the life of a great man, raised up by God!

I’m nobody special; I don’t have a doctorate or professorship, or even a degree yet. I haven’t studied academically into this area. What will be written here is based on my own personal study of the Bible and simple research and pointers from available commentaries, books, encyclopaedias and the great deal of information available through the internet.

It can be easy to read the Bible (particularly the book of Daniel more so perhaps) as just a story sometimes, but it all happened, it is as true and real as the hair on your head (unless you’re Ben Kingsley, of course) – archaeological finds and Babylonian records back it up too. These people lived, worked and played, just as we do today.

Many people today forget Nebuchadnezzar, or ignore him, yet in his day he was the most powerful man on earth, and a major Biblical character. I’m not going to launch here into how humble, unworthy or poor my attempt is on writing about the life and times of Nebuchadnezzar; you can judge that for yourself.

I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to write about a subject I love! I have attempted to present a balanced and honest picture as far as possible. I am human like everyone, so there are bound to be various mistakes and/or discrepancies. Hopefully, however, others will benefit from these articles, as I trust I will in writing them.

There are many grey areas, which is only to be expected, these events took place 2,600 years ago! Where there are conflicting opinions, I have tried to present all viewpoints equally.

Through Nebuchadnezzar’s life we can see God’s ever-present hand at work, sometimes ‘behind-the-scenes’, but other times more openly.

So without further ado: ahem, ladies and gentlemen, I present the first part…

 

Nebuchadnezzar: The king of kings

This will be the first article of many, I trust; setting the scene for the events that follow, and introducing you to this fascinating man.

Daniel addressed Nebuchadnezzar in the following manner:

“Your Majesty, you are the king of kings.
The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory in your hands he has placed all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all.
You are that head of gold.” Dan. 2:37-38

In 570 BC the Babylonian Empire was at its fullest extent. It stretched from modern-day Turkey down to Egypt, and from modern-day Iran down into the heartlands of Arabia.

Neo-Babylonian Empire
Neo-Babylonian Empire (Wikimedia Commons)

The Babylonians were the most powerful civilisation of their time, and subdued all challengers to that title in a series of successful military campaigns.

The city of Babylon, from where the Babylonians derived their name, was the central metropolis of the empire with around 200,000 inhabitants – a massive figure at the time. To put it into perspective, London wouldn’t reach this size until the 1600s.

The Babylonians, much like their counterparts throughout the pages of history (Sumer, Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, etc.), lead the way in art, architecture, lifestyle, mathematics and learning as well.

At the head of this civilization was the king, worshipped by his subjects like a god, surrounded and supported by ‘great’ and ‘powerful’ gods of gold and stone.

He commanded unparalleled power. Woe to them that caused the slightest displeasure to his person; he would inflict the most severe tortures and punishments upon his enemies, skinning them alive. Those, on whom his favour rested, on the other hand, would be showered with riches untold.

Who made this kingdom what it was? Who was ‘the king of kings’? Who commanded such power and fear?

King Nabû-kudurri-uṣur II; more commonly known as: Nebuchadnezzar II.

Nebuchadnezzar raised Babylon from a backward puppet city-state ruled by Assyria, into the nation that it was. Babylon had been dominated by Assyria for centuries, despite being in a state of near-constant rebellion against them.

At first by his father’s side, but later on his own, Nebuchadnezzar elevated his nation into a major world power. Under his reign, Babylon experienced its golden era.

No other ruler was called ‘king of kings’ in the Bible by God Himself (Ezk. 26:7f), see note 1.

Daniel addressed him with this title too; he did well to do so, Nebuchadnezzar was certainly a man to be feared; he had just previously ordered the death of Daniel and all the wise men of Babylon because of their inability to tell him his dream (Dan. 2:9ff). In verses 5 and 6 of chapter two he says:

“’This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honour. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.’” Dan. 2:5-6.

Piles of rubble can also be translated as ‘dunghill’ or ‘ash-heap.’

In this quote, we get an idea of the character of this man. It also reveals how much he was troubled by this dream.

If Nebuchadnezzar did not get his way, we can clearly see the drastic lengths that he was prepared to go to. Who could stand up to him?

One can imagine his advisers skulking around the palace, not daring to offend or disappoint him; offering up flattery and praise rather than opinion or advice.

Thankfully for Babylon, God did not allow Nebuchadnezzar to carry out his plan which he had ‘firmly decided’. Such a rash action would have deprived Babylon of the vast majority of its rulers and teachers (as well as the resident Jewish contingent); although admittedly, the court ‘magicians’ and astrologers might not have been that useful anyhow!

Here, God clearly intervenes by speaking through Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar, relating his dream (which he apparently had forgotten), and interpreting it for him – a great mercy for all involved; and a classic example of God overruling a man’s plans (Prv. 19:21).

 

Prophecies concerning Nebuchadnezzar

The Bible speaks a lot about Nebuchadnezzar; he was God’s tool – raised up by the Lord to punish those ripe for judgement. Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesy extensively concerning him.

The Burning of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar's Army by Juan de la Corte
The Burning of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s Army by Juan de la Corte (Wikimedia Commons)

Jeremiah’s prophecies (and the historical interludes in Jeremiah) relate his eventual conquest of Jerusalem, after destroying much of it twice, and instilling first Zedekiah as puppet-king and then Gedaliah as governor. Both of whom rebelled against him (or in Gedaliah’s case the people whom he was supposed to be governing), despite the Lord’s repeated warnings through Jeremiah (Jer. 22:25, 25:9f, 27:6f, 28:14, 29:21f, 32:28f, 43:9ff, 46:13ff, 46:26).

Nebuchadnezzar also fulfilled prophecies given by the Lord predicting campaigns against Tyre (Isa. 26, Ezk. 26:7f) and Egypt (Ezk. 29:19f, 30:10f) by name; and Assyria also (Nah. 2).

Unfortunately for Nebuchadnezzar, he did not recognise or acknowledge the fact that he was raised up by God and not by himself, resulting in the Lord humbling him severely; but more on that later.

 

Rise and fall of an empire

This period of Mesopotamian and Israelite history is fascinating with hindsight. The rise (under Nebuchadnezzar) and fall of the Babylonians in the 6th century BC is certainly one of the most dramatic in history. In actual fact the Babylonian Empire rose and fell in a little over half a century.

It should be noted before we continue, that the Babylon in Nebuchadnezzar’s time is the ‘Neo-Babylonian Empire’ or second empire of Babylon. Babylon had a fairly substantial independent empire eleven hundred years before. They also had a Nebuchadnezzar before, hence why our subject is labelled the second.

Babylon, in the land of Shinar, has a long history; it being the location of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 as well.

 

Rich archaeological heritage

I hope you will permit me a slight diversion (getting side-tracked already!): one note I would like to make on the first Babylonian empire is of special historic archaeological interest, as an example of the richness of Middle-Eastern archaeology. The site of Aqar Quf, a 14th century BC Babylonian city (near modern-day Baghdad, Iraq) is the location of “an unusually well preserved ziggurat.” Rising to a height of 180 feet, the mud-brick core of the ziggurat still stands today, weathering almost 3,500 years of history and conflict. It is remarkable that such a relic from a by-gone age has survived. Think of all that it has witnessed, from Alexander the Great to the Mongol invasions and the Iraq war …

The ziggurat of Dur-Kurigalzu in 2010. © U.S. Army - Spc. David Robbins.
The ziggurat of Dur-Kurigalzu in 2010. © U.S. Army – Spc. David Robbins.

Egypt and the pyramids get all the attention (and rightly so, to an extent), but we do miss out on the (arguably even more spectacular) remains of the Mesopotamian civilisations. Such a building makes archaeology and history in the Near East so amazing. So much still survives from its rich history; but equally so much has been lost, and so much is yet to be found.

 

 

Notes

1 – The only other human being called ‘king of kings’ in the Bible is Artaxerxes, king of Persia. However that was a title he gave himself, in a letter sent to Ezra the priest (Ezra 7:11-13); this was common practice for such rulers in those days.

Brexit: PANIC!! Hang on lets think about this!

It’s been quite a week hasn’t it? The nation has been kicked out of the Euros, oh and we also voted to leave the European Union. Our Prime Minister has resigned and the Opposition appear to be in turmoil. So as a Christian and as a ‘leftie’ I wanted to give my thoughts on what has happened, and the future that our nation now faces. I do hope this post is interesting, if you disagree, that’s fine, if it encourages you to think more on the issues, then fantastic!

Thoughts on the result

I voted to Remain in the EU on Thursday. I honestly felt that we were, as a nation, better off in the EU. It protected Christians more than the British government would, and I disagree with nationalism, however the nation decided otherwise. There is a lot of bitterness of both sides still, blame is chucked everywhere and anger is our friend it would seem. After the result, I was bitter and at the time of writing this, am still going through a healing process. I constantly come to God in prayer and read the bible and ask God, why your people would want to vote to leave the EU. Slowly, but surely I am healing, I am finding the answers by listening to people, hearing their reasons. This is an atmosphere where Christians can shine; we need to disagree well, forgive, and not hold it against those who voted the other way, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Forgive and Understand

As a Remain voter, I can say that I do acknowledge certain arguments by the leave campaign. The EU is corrupt, it is badly led and it has many faults. It hasn’t shown itself to be very wise and can be problematic sometimes. By acknowledging the other sides views, by trying to understand them, we can respect them, and by respecting them, we can discuss, and with discussion, we can learn to disagree well, and unite together for the good of the country.

If I analyse why the Remain campaign lost, I would say that the main reason we failed to convince the electorate was due to the fact of just not listening. The public figures focused their attention on Boris Johnson and Farage, rather than the people, who got fed up with it all. Do I think the Remain camp can be accused of ‘Project Fear’? No I think they stated things as they saw it, as I see it, but it became an easy target for the Leave side that classed it as Project Fear, and therefore handed them propaganda on a plate. I think many students, including me, went into the campaign with our views, our opinions and classed everyone else who thought otherwise as wrong. I don’t think we properly listened to people; anyone who thought otherwise was instantly labelled ‘bigot’ or ‘racist’, etc. This was a problem and we must learn for the future to listen to people, address their problems and stop being all high and mighty.

Political Upheaval?

We have seen in recent days, the economy has fallen, our political system seems to be in turmoil. It’s crazy that such a decision by the electorate has caused such chaos. As a person with centre-left views, it won’t surprise you that I welcome this turmoil in the Labour party, I want a leader who can unite the party, MPs and members and can lead the party into the next election with a chance of winning, and provide a credible opposition, to hold the government to account. Corbyn, who was undoubtedly a nice fellow, had views I disagreed with and I could never had voted for a party with him in charge and ultimately he is a bad leader.   The Conservative party has also been in chaos, and are undergoing an election for their own leader, our next Prime Minister. As Christians, it’s our job to pray for leadership for both parties, even when we disagree with them, we must pray that they make decisions that help people, the poor, the needy and ultimately glorify God. We must pray for leadership for all parties. The main issue is, for Christians it doesn’t ultimately matter which party we support, we should always pray for them and their decisions. We have our political tribes, places where we can shine individually, but we all share one vision, and one kingdom, and that is the most important thing. Pray for all parties, for those you disagree with; you don’t know who God will use!

Rise of Hate?

According to recent media stories, there has been a rise in hate crime, people being shouted at, mocked and bullied for being a different nationality than that of English. Whilst these may be isolated incidents, how sad this is! Brothers and sisters, this attitude is something we condemn. We must acknowledge that both campaigns were on many occasions, fuelled by hatred and anger, and this still lingers in people. We must respond to this with love, love immigrants, those scared, those from our European neighbours, those fleeing from war-torn countries. Jesus does not care about whether or not someone is English, British or European (Galatians 3:28) but for their soul and wellbeing, so whether you think the EU is good or not, that should not let you be drawn in to the hate that is spreading. This surge of hate is sad, and let us as a united church stand against this, regardless of our EU stance, leave and remain campaigners can stand together.

The Future

The future, what does it hold? Are we to fear, are we to worry? The answer is simply no. We can use the perhaps over-used cliché, ‘God is in control’, which although isn’t wrong, is not always the right thing to say. It can give us an excuse to sit back on our laurels, rather than living out our faith in the world.

What we do need is a change; we need the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, in the church. We need to be filled, we need to be baptised in the spirit, be renewed. We need to desire the greater gifts, love, peace, joy, but also beware of falling into the trap of negating or denying the other gifts of the Holy Spirit (miracles do happen!). We need to long for God in a way we have not done for a long time. We may look out into the world and sigh at all the pain and hatred, but change can only happen, if we are first on fire for God. We have to burn bright, and to do this, we need the Lord!

The next few years may be turbulent, they may be tough, who on earth (except God) knows but we have to work together to help the poor and needy. We need to put our trust in God; He will lead us. We should certainly live out our faith more. I feel the referendum has exposed some flaws in the church, and my call, I believe Gods call, is that we become more unified, but also live out our faith, love, care and forgive.   Thinking on this, this could be the Church’s time. Hate and extreme anger is on the rise. I don’t believe that Christians voted with this hate in mind, but on the corruption of the EU. The church now must shine, to love, to fight for the rights of the poor, to live out the gospel and to follow the example of Jesus. Who knows, even for such a person like me, this could actually turn out to be a blessing.