The Fall of Babylon

One hundred and thirteen years before Cyrus was born, Isaiah called him by name and said, one hundred and seventy-six years before it came to pass, that he would let the people of Israel go from captivity. But Babylon was to fall before Israel could go free and the prophet also said that Cyrus would take the mighty city (ISAIAH 45:1-5). In the fourth year of Zedekiah, 597 B.C., Seraiah was sent as an ambassador to Babylon on business for the King; and by him Jeremiah sent a copy of the prophecies contained in the fiftieth and fifty-first chapters of Jeremiah. Seraiah was to take the prophecy with him, and when he reached Babylon, he was to read it all, and when he had finished the reading of it he was to bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates and say, "Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her" (JEREMIAH 51:59-64). In that prophecy Jeremiah said that the power of the Medes would destroy Babylon. The armies of Media and Persia were united under the command of Cyrus, and left Ecbatana, the capital of Media, in the spring of 539 B.C., on the expedition against Babylon.

In the prophecy which Jeremiah had sent to be read in Babylon, it was said to the people of Israel: "My people, go ye out of the midst of her, and deliver ye every man his soul from the fierce anger of the LORD. And lest your heart faint, and ye fear for the rumour that shall be heard in the land; a rumour shall both come one year, and after that in another year shall come a rumour, and violence in the land, ruler against ruler" (JEREMIAH 51:45-46). Here was given a definite sign by which the people of Israel might know when to escape from Babylon, and from the ruin that was to fall upon her. There were to be two rumours of danger to Babylon, and the rumours were to be a year apart. First, when Cyrus started from Ecbatana, the rumour reached Babylon and the Babylonians all made ready to meet him in defence of the city. But he stopped and stayed a year, and then started again for Babylon, which would be the cause of the second rumour. This was what the people of Israel were waiting for: they knew it was the time to get out of Babylon, for there would surely be violence in the land; ruler against ruler. And thus that prophecy was certainly fulfilled beyond all reasonable dispute.

Cyrus Moves On to Babylon

In the spring of 538 B.C., Cyrus proceeded to Babylon without hindrance. Nabonadius, the king of Babylon, drew up his forces in the plain outside the city, and prepared to give battle. Cyrus attacked him at once and easily defeated him. The Euphrates ran directly through the city, under the walls and Cyrus determined to turn the waters out of the channel and then, under the cover of darkness, follow the bed of the river into the city. This also was a fulfilment of prophecy: "A drought is upon her waters; and they shall be dried up""And I will dry up her sea, and make her springs dry" (JEREMIAH 50:38; JEREMIAH 51:36). Thus spoke the prophet sixty years before, telling what would be.

Isaiah was shown in a vision that Babylon would fall in a time of feasting: "Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink..." and that in the midst of it she would be attacked: "Arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield" (ISAIAH 21:5,9). And thus says the historian: "When all was prepared, Cyrus determined to wait for the arrival of a certain festival, during which the whole population were wont to engage in drinking and revelling and then silently in the dead of night to turn the water of the river and make his attack. All came to pass as he hoped and wished. The festival was held with even greater pomp and splendour than usual; for Belshazzar, with the natural insolence of youth, to mark his contempt of the besieging army, abandoned himself wholly to the delights of the season and himself entertained a thousand lords in his palace" - ('Seven Great Monarchies', Fourth Monarchy, Chapter 8, Par. 52 - Rawlinson).

Daniel was in Babylon that night, and tells what happened there: "Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his Lords, and drank wine before the thousand. Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein" (DANIEL 5:1-2).

Jeremiah said it was "a land of graven images," and prophesied that they would be "mad upon their idols" (JEREMIAH 50:38). And Daniel says that in that night's feast which he saw, "they drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone" (DANIEL 5:1-4).

Isaiah, one hundred and seventy-six years before, said that their night of pleasure would be turned into fear (See ISAIAH 21:3-4). Daniel tells what did it: "In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlesticks upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote" (DANIEL 5:5).

Isaiah in vision pictured him thus in his fear: "My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me: therefore are my loins filled with pain; pangs have taken hold upon me... I was bowed down at the hearing of it; I was dismayed at the seeing of it" (ISAIAH 21:4-3). Daniel tells what was the reality: "Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed and his knees smote one against another" (DANIEL 5:6).

Isaiah showed that he would call in the astrologers: "Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee; none shall save thee" (ISAIAH 47:13,15).

Daniel says the king did so: "The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers... but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof. Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonished" (DANIEL 5:7-9).

The Fourteenth of Tammuz

We are told in Daniel that Babylon was captured on the night of a great feast to the idol gods, at which the wives and concubines joined in wild revelry. But the women were not in the habit of feasting with men - how is this? An account, by Cyrus himself, of his capture of Babylon, was dug up only three or four years ago. In it he declares that Babylon was captured, "without fighting", on the fourteenth day of the month Tammuz. Now the month Tammuz was named in honour of the god Tammuz, the Babylonian Adonis who married their Venus or Ishtar; and the fourteenth of Tammuz was the regular time to celebrate their union with lascivious orgies. On this day, of all others, the women took part in the horrible rites; and it was in this feast of king, princes, wives, and concubines, that Babylon was taken and Belshazzar slain. The Bible is here fully and wonderfully corroborated.

Jeremiah had said sixty years before: "And I will make drunk her princes, and her wise men, her captains, and her rulers, and her mighty men: and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the King, whose name is the LORD of Hosts. In their heat I will make their feasts, and I will make them drunken, that they may rejoice, and sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the LORD" (JEREMIAH 51:57,39).

The following is the statement of Rawlinson as to what was going on outside of the king's palace, as well as in it:

"Elsewhere the rest of the population was occupied in feasting and dancing. Drunken riot and mad excitement held possession of the town; the siege was forgotten; ordinary precautions were neglected. Following the example of their king, the Babylonians gave themselves up for the night to orgies in which religious frenzy and drunken excess formed a strange and revolting medley" ('Seven Great Monarchies', Fourth Monarchy, Chap.8, par.52).

As all this was being so wildly carried on in the city, outside of it the Medes and Persians were waiting for the waters to run low enough to allow them to wade in the bed of the river, even as Jeremiah had said long before, "...set up the watchmen, prepare the liers in wait" (JEREMIAH 51:12, margin). And thus says the historian:

"Meanwhile, outside the city, in silence and darkness, the Persians watched at the two points where the Euphrates entered and left the walls. Anxiously they noted the gradual sinking of the water in the river bed; still more anxiously they watched to see if those within the walls would observe the suspicious circumstance and sound alarm throughout the town. Should such an alarm be given, all their labours would be lost. If, when they entered the river bed, they found the river walls manned and the river gates fast-locked, they would be indeed "caught in a trap." Ambushed on both sides by the enemy whom they could neither see nor reach, they would be overwhelmed and destroyed by his missiles before they could succeed in making their escape. But, as they watched, no sounds of alarm reached them - only the confused noise of revelry and riot, which showed that the unhappy townsmen were quite unconscious of the approach of danger" (Id. par. 53).

The Gates Shall Not Be Shut

That the Babylonians would be taken, entirely unconscious of their danger, was just what Isaiah had said way back in his day: "Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it off: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know" (ISAIAH 47:11).

And Jeremiah had said: "I have laid a snare for thee, and thou art also taken, O Babylon, and thou wast not aware: thou art found, and also caught" (JEREMIAH 50:24).

And that the river gates would not be fast-locked Isaiah had promised one hundred and seventy-four years before: "Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him: and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two-leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut" (ISAIAH 45:1).

Jeremiah had also said, "The LORD of hosts hath sworn by himself, saying, Surely I will fill thee with men, as with caterpillars; and they shall lift up a shout against thee" (JEREMIAH 51:14).

And as history shows:

"At last shadowy forms began to emerge from the obscurity of the deep river bed, and on the landing-places opposite the river gates scattered clusters of men grew into solid columns - the undefended gateways were seized - a war-shout was raised - the undefended spread and swift runners started off to 'show the king of Babylon that his city was taken at one end.' In the darkness and confusion of the night a terrible massacre ensued. The drunken revellers could make no resistance. The king, paralysed with fear at the awful handwriting upon the wall, which too late had warned him of his peril could do nothing even to check the progress of the assailants, who carried all before them everywhere. Bursting into the palace a band of Persians made their way to the presence of the monarch and slew him on the scene of his impious revelry. Another band carried fire and sword throughout the town" (Id. Par. 54).

Jeremiah had said that fire and sword would be carried through the town: "A sword is upon the Chaldeans, saith the LORD, and upon the inhabitants of Babylon, and upon her princes, and upon her wise men. A sword is upon the liars; and they shall dote: a sword is upon her mighty men; and they shall be dismayed. A sword is upon their horses, and upon their chariots, and upon all the mingled people that are in the midst of her; and they shall become as women... Thus saith the LORD of hosts: The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken, and her high gates shall be burned with fire; and the people shall labour in vain, and the folk in the fire, and they shall be weary" (JEREMIAH 50:35-37;JEREMIAH 51:58).

Thus fell Babylon, and all the graven images of her gods were broken unto the ground.

But this was not all. The prophets also spoke of the utter ruin of Babylon as well as of her fall. Isaiah wrote thus: "And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there. But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. And the wild beasts of the island shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged" (ISAIAH 13:19-22).

The Desolation of the Once Great City

The city continued to be a place of considerable importance throughout the Persian dominion, although it was injured a good deal by some sieges brought on by the revolt of its inhabitants and it also suffered damage from the effect of the waters of the river that were turned aside by Cyrus and never fully turned back. Alexander the Great made Babylon an important point in his expedition. There he held the "states-general of the world" and decided to re-establish it in its old importance, and made it the grand capital of his empire. He set ten thousand men at work to repair the Euphrates and planned other restorations, but his death put a stop to it all. Soon afterwards Seleucus built Seleucia, forty-five miles up the river, which in comparatively short time became a city of six hundred thousand inhabitants, governed by a senate of three hundred nobles. On the building of Seleucia, Babylon was wholly deserted and the great temples, the pleasant palaces and the grand houses were all left desolate, only to be filled with doleful creatures and to echo with the dismal cries of owls.

The prophet said not only that wild beasts of the deserts would lie there, but that wild beasts of the islands would cry in the desolate houses; yet Babylon was an inland city, more than a hundred miles from the nearest point of the Persian Gulf and many hundreds from the nearest islands. But the Macedonian Kings of the East made Babylon a hunting-park, and kept the wild animals in the desolate houses, letting them out for a chase as occasion required. And for this purpose wild beasts from the far-off islands were brought away inland there and put in the desolate houses and pleasant palaces that had witnessed the pomp and the glory of the greatest kings of the earth. The prophecy was literally fulfilled.

Again, Isaiah said: "I will also make it a possession for the bittern, and pools of water; and I will sweep it with the besom of destruction, saith the LORD of hosts" (ISAIAH 14:23). Mr. Layard who visited it about 1845, says:

"Besides the great mound, other shapeless heaps of rubbish cover for many an acre the face of the land. The lofty banks of ancient canals fret the country like natural ridges of hills. Some have been long choked with sand; others still carry the waters of the river to distant villages and palm groves. On all sides, fragments of glass, marble, pottery, and inscribed brick, are mingled with that peculiar nitrous and blanched soil which, bred from the remains of ancient habitations, checks or destroys vegetation, and renders the site of Babylon a naked and a hideous waste. Owls (which are of a large grey kind and often found in flocks of nearly a hundred) start from the scanty thickets, and the foul jackal skulks through the furrows" ('Nineveh and Babylon' p.484).

The prophecy says, "Neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there..." The natives regard the whole place as actually haunted, and will not pitch their tents there, nor will the shepherds make their fold there. And so is accomplished in perfect faithfulness the word of the Lord concerning Babylon, that " shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation" (ISAIAH 13:20). Babylon has "...become heaps, a dwellingplace for dragons, an astonishment, and a hissing, without an inhabitant" (JEREMIAH 51:37).

And, "This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth: and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations. For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? And his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back" (ISAIAH 14:26-27)?

Isaiah also went on to write in ISAIAH 55:11: "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return onto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."


Source: 'Voice of Revival', No.8