Biblical Nations - Babylonian Empire

Babylonian Empire

Key Scripture: Jeremiah 50:17

Figures: Merodach-baladan, Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-merodach, Belshazzar

It is doubtful that any empire in Scripture is held in more scorn by the Jewish people than Babylon.  As the chosen tool that God used to ultimately destroy Jerusalem, including Solomon's Temple, the mighty Babylonians conquered and laid waste to much of the territory surrounding the Promised Land as they expanded under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar.  This week we'll look at their origins, history, and eventual downfall as the last true empire that dominated over the children of Israel during the time recorded in the Old Testament.

Known to historians as the Neo-Babylonian Empire, this kingdom of Chaldeans was the second empire that had arisen from the southern Mesopotamian land of Shinar (the first being nearly a millennium earlier around the time of Hammurabi).  As well-known and historically important as it was, however, the dominion of these Babylonians lasted less than a century.  The first king was Nabopolassar, who came to power in 626 BC and initially was only tasked with securing the independence of Babylon from the rule of the declining Assyrian Empire.  In fact, various rulers of the city had been trying for years to wrest control from Assyria, including Merodach-baladan, the king mentioned in both Isaiah and 2 Kings as sending envoys to Judah's King Hezekiah and who ultimately lost control of his city to Sennacherib after 11 years.  Nabopolassar, however, was more successful.  From his seat of power in one of the largest cities of the ancient world, however, he soon expanded his rule south to the Persian Gulf in less than 10 years before turning his focus northward.  The Assyrian capital of Nineveh was sacked in 612 BC, which left Nabopolassar's Babylon as the dominant force in Mesopotamia.  It was his son, however, who ascended to the throne in 604 BC that left the biggest mark on history - Nebuchadnezzar II.

Just weeks before being crowned, Nebuchadnezzar led a coalition of Babylonian, Median, Persian, and Scythian forces against what was left of Assyria's army and Egyptian soldiers commanded by Pharaoh Necho II, who was fresh off a victory over Judah at the Battle of Megiddo, where King Josiah was killed.  In one of the most monumental battles of ancient times, the Babylonian victory simultaneously ended both the Assyrian Empire and Egypt's involvement in the politics of the Asian Middle East.  Nebuchadnezzar was unable to claim Egypt's territory, however, and actually had a poor military record for the first two decades of his rule.  In fact, the destruction of Jerusalem and deportation of the Jewish population in 587 BC, known as the Babylonian Captivity, was a turning point for his legacy of carving into territory formerly dominated by Assyria and Egypt, as the prophet Ezekiel foretold.  Carrying significant numbers of people and treasures back to Babylon, he then turned his attention north to the Phoenician city of Tyre, which he besieged for 13 years before their surrender.  There is some evidence that he then marched against Egypt, but there is little that tells us how far he ultimately progressed before Necho was able to finally push the Babylonians back.  The book of Jeremiah tells us of a prophecy that Nebuchadnezzar would reach Tahpanhes, where a remnant of Jews had escaped against God's will, but modern scholars are in disagreement about where that city even stood.

Nebuchadnezzar initiated a number of grand building projects in Babylon, making it both one of the most stunning of all ancient cities as well as one of the most heavily defended.  Archaeological evidence has uncovered impressive palace and temple ruins, and suggests that the walls of the city were wide enough for chariots drawn by four horses to run side-by-side.  Ancient writers passed down tales of the beauty of the massive ziggurat and hanging gardens in the city.  The dynasty that Nebuchadnezzar likely envisioned was short-lived, however, as his son Evil-merodach was murdered in a coup after just two years.  Neriglissar was a brother-in-law and courtier that assumed the throne briefly, but upon his death his underage son was also killed by usurpers.  A father/son tandem named Nabonidus and Belshazzar ruled together, but as they were not native to the region they instituted worship of their preferred god, Sin, rather than the city's traditional deity named Marduk.  Nabonidus waged wars across the empire and actually settled for ten years in Arabia, leaving his son in command of the city until his return in 643 BC.  Four years later, Persian troops invaded Babylonian lands and defeating their armies as they approached the capital city.  In a brilliant move, Cyrus the Great diverted the Euphrates River several miles north and was able to march under the city's gates during the night to capture Babylon without a battle.  Belshazzar was killed, as told in the book of Daniel, and Nabonidus surrendered before being deported to a small territory in eastern Persia.  The Babylonian Empire was over, but the city itself remained despite being ravaged by Xerxes and besieged by Alexander the Great.  Over the centuries, however, Babylon eventually diminished in importance and was even used as a source for building materials for nearby construction.  After being little more than an archaeological site for two hundred years, Saddam Hussein removed the few residents of Qwaresh, a village constructed within the ancient city's extents to house workers, and attempted to rebuild a significant portion of the city but was halted by the Iraqi War in 2003.  By 2019 the city was named a World Heritage Site and the UN determined to establish a long-term preservation plan.


Popular posts from this blog

Our Story With God, Episode 11: Kings (And One Queen)

Founding Fathers - Samuel Adams

Founding Fathers - Samuel Huntington