Facing the Future Armed with the Past
As the world teeters on the brink of disaster, it would be instructive to take stock of where we have come from, in order to understand where we are going. The only way to understand the present and future is to first understand the past, if for no other reason than to avoid making the same mistakes. It is with this in mind that I offer this very brief history of the world. One word of warning: don’t get hung up on the names and dates. The names are there primarily as labels and the dates as reference points. The way to learn from history is to see the big picture and recognize the patterns in that picture. There will not be a test at the end, so just enjoy it. Okay, here we go.
I’m not going to go all the way back to Genesis, but am going to pick up with a prophesy in Daniel 2 in which God tells King Nebuchadnezzar the future of the ancient world. He does this by giving him a dream and having Daniel interpret it. In the dream, there is a statue made of various materials, each representing a different empire in the ancient world.
The head of the statue is made of gold and represents the contemporary world of Nebuchadnezzar II and his empire of Babylon. The Babylonian Empire began in 609 BC – twenty-three years before Daniel and his buddies were carried off into captivity from their homes in Judea, the Southern Kingdom of Israel. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria. Assyria was the nation that destroyed Samaria, the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and carried off those people 113 years earlier in 722 BC.
Both Assyria and Babylon were situated in Mesopotamia, in the Tigris-Euphrates valley (modern day Iraq), with Assyria to the north and Babylon to the south. They were neighbors and rivals, and, at least by the time of King David (c. 1000 BC), at each other’s throats, with Assyria clearly dominating. Now, under the powerful leadership of Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon was able to throw off their rival’s yoke and, for the first time, to dominate the region.
Because Babylon is the head of the statue, and because it is made of gold, God is saying that it was the most important of the four empires of the ancient world. (Why He sees it that way is worthy of a later discussion.) He is also saying that Nebuchadnezzar was the most important of its rulers. He calls him “king of kings,” and says that He has given him “the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory,” as well as sovereignty over the entire earth. These are words that normally are associated with Christ, which makes Nebuchadnezzar an even more fascinating person.
It was under Nebuchadnezzar’s rule that Babylon reached the peak of its glory. He was even responsible for one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It may have been in those gardens that he received an audial message from God concerning his pride and how God had stripped him of his kingdom. You can read his own account of that extraordinary event in Daniel 4.
It was Nebuchadnezzar that captured Jerusalem and carried away tens of thousands of the inhabitants to Babylon. The Babylonian Captivity of the Judean Israelites lasted 70 years. Most scholars date it from the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 586 BC to the rebuilding of the Temple in 516. The importance of Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon to ancient, middle and modern history cannot be over emphasized.
The chest and arms of the statue are made of silver and represent Persia (modern day Iran). After a series of weak and ineffective kings, ending with Belshazzar (Daniel 5), Babylon was falling apart. Therefore, God raised up the Medes and the Persians to divide the empire among themselves. In 539 BC, Cyrus the Persian reunited the empire under his rule.
Besides being responsible for ending the Babylonian Captivity, the Persians are best remembered for being defeated by the Greeks at Marathon in 490 BC, when Darius the Mede tried to invade Greece. His son, Xerxes, tried again in 480, with a host of two million soldiers from across the empire, and was stalemated for an entire week by 300 Spartans determined to hold the narrow pass at Thermopylae. Xerxes is believed to be the king mentioned in the book of Esther.
The stomach and thighs of the statue are made of bronze and represent Greece. It was under Alexander the Macedonian that the independent city-states of Greece were united in 336 BC, and by 324 had conquered all of the world known to them at that time. They ushered in a period of art and philosophy across their empire known as Hellenism, which was a mixture of western (Greek) thought and eastern (Persian) culture. In Egypt, that period is known as the Ptolemaic period, and lasted from 305 to 30 BC., ending with Cleopatra, when Egypt was conquered by Rome.
Speaking of Egypt, because of its relative isolation from the rest of the ancient world, it usually played a supportive role in political and military affairs. Egypt saw the height of its glory during the 400 years between Joseph and Moses (1847-1447 BC). After that, it declined in power and influence, and became a source for military support in the form of horses and chariots. The Egyptians fought on the side of the Assyrians when they were defeated by the Babylonians in 609 at Megiddo. It was an unfortunate alliance, but they were not known for their acumen at picking winners. Yet, they were highly sought after in times of war, especially by the kings of Israel.
While the Mesopotamians were relatively kind to conquered and subjugated peoples, the Greeks were not, and were especially cruel to Israel. Part of this could be due to the fact that the Greeks considered Eastern nations to be barbaric, the same way the Romans viewed the tribes of Europe. But part of it may also be due to the fact that they expected subjugated nations to be Hellenized, to which the Israelites would naturally have been resistant. Thus, Israel’s history from 400 BC to the time of Christ was one of hardship and the struggle for independence, as described in the Maccabees and other extra-Biblical writings. They successfully maintained their independence for 100 years, from 164 to 63 BC, before being conquered by Rome.
One last word about Alexander: his goal was world domination, and he saw Hellenization as the means to that end. If he could get conquered peoples to give up their heritage, culture, language and religion, and be blended into one culture, language and religion, it would be easier to control them. In that sense, he was the first great anti-Christ. Alexander is referred to in Daniel 11, as are Ptolemy, Cleopatra and other world leaders from that period.
The legs of the statue are made of iron, representing Rome. The Roman Empire, which replaced the 500 year old Roman Republic, lasted, arguably, from the time of Augustus Caesar (27 BC) to the time of Diocletian (305 AD), when the Empire was divided between East and West. Some see the death of Marcus Aurelius (180 AD) as marking the beginning of the end for the Empire.
Rome fought against the Greeks in three wars, known as the Macedonian Wars, from 200 BC to 168 BC, at the end of which Greece was no longer an empire and Rome was, at least in military influence and the tribute they collected. It would take another 100 years for them to develop the attitude and politics to be truly imperial.
In hindsight, we can see how God used the Roman Empire to spread the Gospel, once Christianity was on its feet and running. Without it, it could have taken tens of centuries for the Word to spread abroad. Rome had built roads and other systems to interconnect most of the ancient world, even venturing into Europe. Travel and communications were far easier because of it. So, even though the goal of empire builders has never been to spread the Gospel, God has always used them for that purpose.
Finally, the feet of the statue are a mixture of iron and clay. This is to show the division of the Roman Empire into West and East, or, eventually, into Holy Roman Empire (west) and Byzantine Empire (east). Notably, the Byzantine Empire was the weaker of the two, because clay is weaker than iron. Constantine (306-337 AD) is considered its first emperor. He moved his capital from Rome to Byzantium (renamed Constantinople) in 330 AD and made Greek the official language. The Empire lasted until 1453 when it fell to Ottoman Turks. This is considered by many to mark the end of the Middle Ages.
Once Daniel finished describing the statue contained in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, he described a stone that subsequently destroys it. It was a “stone…cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them.” Then it crushed the rest of the statue. After that, it “became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” Daniel interprets the stone as “a kingdom [that God set up] which will never be destroyed, and…will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.” This is the Kingdom of Christ, the kingdom He set up during His ministry on earth to Israel while they were still in subjection to the Roman Empire. Scholars agree that the early Christian Church was one of the factors that brought about the fall of the Roman Empire. But it was Christ’s spiritual kingdom that really brought all these empires to an end.
Now, fast forward to modern history.
I’m going to skip over the Middle Ages, for the most part. I would simply like to note that the Byzantine Empire figured prominently in the Crusades, and that the Crusades were, fundamentally, a struggle between West and East, Christian and Muslim, Roman Empire and Ottoman Empire (Turkey), with the Byzantine Empire caught in the middle. The Crusades lasted from 1095 to 1291 AD. The Ottoman Empire, on the other hand, lasted until 1923!
It is interesting to realize that the description of the statue in Daniel is a progression westward: it begins with its head in Mesopotamia and ends with its feet in Italy. Except for Persia, each of those empires was supplanted by an empire to the west. It’s equally interesting to note that the movement of Christ’s Kingdom has been a progression westward: it began in Jerusalem, moved through Asia Minor to Italy (Rome), continued through Europe to Great Britain, and then came to America. Further, it is significant that modern empires have also progressed westward.
Italy’s empire dominated the sixteenth century and gave us the Renaissance. Spain’s empire dominated the seventeenth century and gave us the Baroque era and the Age of Discovery. France’s empire dominated the eighteenth century and gave us the Neoclassical era, the Age of Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment. Britain’s empire dominated the nineteenth century and gave us the Victorian era, the Industrial Revolution, the Romantic era and the age of great literature. America’s empire dominated the twentieth century and gave us the Modern era and the age of the machine – including skyscrapers, cars, airplanes, film, television, rocket ships and computers.
Now, shift gears to the present day.
In case you haven’t noticed, a migration westward has been taking place. Muslims, who have dominated southern Spain for centuries, have been moving north into France over the past several decades, so that, today, France is on the verge of becoming the Islamic Republic of France. From there they’ve begun colonizing Great Britain, so that, today, the most common first name in Great Britain is Mohammed. Now they’re moving into towns and cities across the United States.
Remember that ancient Babylon is today the nation of Iraq, and that ancient Persia is the modern nation of Iran. While most nations today are shrinking in population, Muslim nations are busting at the seams. Europeans typically have 1.3 child per family and Americans have 2.1. Chinese families are limited by law to 1 child. African families have more children, but those are being reduced at an alarming rate because of the spread of AIDS. Muslims, on the other hand, have between 4 and 6 children per family.
One out of four inhabitants on earth are Muslim. Seven years ago, that number was one out of five. One out of three people are Christian. That number was higher seven years ago. If current trends continue, half the world’s population could be Muslim in one generation, and all major nations could be dominated by Muslims in two generations. Think of the consequences of that kind of shift in power, demographics and culture, considering our present dependence upon other nations.
How could this happen? Besides the reproduction rate among Muslims being three to six times that of the rest of the world, the political systems in democracies make it possible for anyone who is a citizen to run for public office. Remember the last time you went to the poles to vote? How many candidates were running for offices unopposed? All it would take for Muslims to take over our local governments would be for them to run for an office unopposed. And just so the voting public won’t know they’re Muslim, many are changing their names so they sound western. There’s a town in Michigan right now where four Muslims are running for the city council. If they win, five of the six seats will be occupied by Muslims and, in effect, they will be in control of that city.
Muslims don’t need to fly airplanes into buildings to take over the West. All they need is to continue having babies, to continue migrating west, and to run for public office wherever they settle. In two generations, the world could find itself back in the Dark Ages. Muslims do not like western culture, especially Christian culture, so that would be the first thing to go. They don’t believe men and women are equal, so women’s rights would become non-existent. They hate Jews, so they would be either exterminated or put in labor camps. Christian leaders would probably be exterminated and most other professing Christians put in labor camps. All memory of the great achievements of Western civilization would be wiped out. Libraries would be burned, including Shakespeare and all other western literature. Bibles would become contraband. It would be the Fall of the Roman Empire all over again, only this time with far, far greater consequences.
I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but I would like to point out a pattern. Empires have always moved west. Christianity has always moved west. Islam has been moving west, at least for the past several decades. There has always been a struggle between East and West, Muslim and Christian, the empires of men and the Empire of Christ. Is there any reason to believe it will be any different in the future?
Muslims often speak of Islam as a kingdom, an empire. Westerners naively speak of it merely as a religion. I think we need to start seeing Islam through the eyes of Muslims. We need to take a page from history and learn from it. Just like Alexander the Great, Muslims want world domination and to blend all people into one culture, language and religion. In that sense, they could very well be the last great anti-Christ.
Finally, fast forward to the future.
In the book of Revelation, Babylon reappears as the Great Whore riding on the back of the Beast. We cannot seem to get away from her: Babylon was there in ancient times, she was there during the crusades, she is here today in the form of Iraq and the rest of the Muslim world, and she will be here in the future in the form of a whore riding the Beast. She was the most important kingdom in ancient times, and the kingdom that God used to destroy Jerusalem. She was the nemesis of Christian knights during the crusades. She is our nemesis today in the Middle East. And she will be our spiritual nemesis in the future.
History began in the Fertile Crescent (i.e., Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt), and it will end there. History has always moved west, following Christ’s Kingdom. It seems to be circumnavigating the globe, like a great net, catching the fish that God has preordained for His Kingdom. Man’s kingdoms are just tools to be used by the Master Fisherman. One day, the net will be full and history will be complete. At that point, we will be back at the beginning, back in the Fertile Crescent, and watching the final events of Revelation unfold. What an incredible final chapter in history that will be – and we will be there to participate in it!
I’d like to finish by quoting what Daniel says about God’s sovereignty, followed by Nebuchadnezzar’s praise. First, this is what Daniel prayed on the night God revealed to him the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:
“Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him. To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for You have given me wisdom and power; even now You have made known to me what we requested of You, for You have made known to us the king’s matter.” (Daniel 2:20-23)
And this is what Nebuchadnezzar said after God had humbled him by taking away his kingdom and all semblance of his manhood; and after He had restored him:
“I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’
“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.” (Daniel 4:34,35,37)
May the Kingdom of Christ increase. May His Word spread over all the earth. And may all nations bow down and acknowledge Him as the one and only King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Waitsel Smith, August 11, 2007
Text © 2007 Waitsel Smith. Photos and artwork various artists, including U.S. Navy Chief Photographer’s Mate Edward G. Martens (photos of Modern Day Ruins – Babylon). All Rights Reserved.