What Are the Four Kingdoms from Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream?

In Daniel 2, Daniel interprets a dream of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. In this dream, the king sees a massive statue composed of gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Daniel interprets the four parts of the statue to be four successive kingdoms, or empires. The gold kingdom is identified as the Babylonian empire, of which Nebuchadnezzar is leader. However, the other three empires are not named by Daniel.

Biblical scholars differ on their identity. Traditionalists identify them as the Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. Critical scholars, who date Daniel as a second century BC composition, identify them as the Median, Persian, and Greek empires.

Stephen R. Miller, writing in the Apologetics Study Bible, further explains the critical view:

On this view the final kingdom, to be crushed and replaced by God’s eternal kingdom, would be the regime of the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes. By this argument these critics assign the writing of [Daniel] to the period of Antiochus’s persecution. To make the Greek Empire the last in the series, they claim that Daniel’s author artificially partitioned the Medo-Persian Empire into two consecutive world empires, the Median and the Persian.

The critical scholars argue that the author of Daniel was writing history, not prophecy. He was looking backward in time. But does this position actually have support from the text? Stephen Miller believes the answer is “no.”

Since the Median Empire never existed as a separate world power after the Neo-Babylonian, however, this would mean that Daniel committed an enormous historical blunder. That even a semieducated Jew (even in the second century B.C.) could be ignorant of the fact that it was the ruler of the Medo-Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great, who delivered them from the Babylonian captivity is highly unlikely. Next to the Egyptian exodus itself, this was the most important event in the history of Israel as a nation. Furthermore, both 2 Chr 36:22–23 and Ezra 1:1–4 testify that it was Cyrus the Persian who conquered Babylon and issued the decree allowing the Jews to return to their homeland.

Also the author of Daniel demonstrates throughout the book that he was well aware that Media and Persia were not two separate world kingdoms but a unified empire. For example, in 8:20 the two-horned ram (symbolizing one kingdom) represents “the kings of Media and Persia,” and in chap. 6 the author referred to the “laws of the Medes and Persians” (cf. vv. 8, 15), indicating that Darius ruled by the laws of the Medo-Persian Empire, not a separate Median kingdom.

Miller further explains that the traditional view has been held from as far back as the 1st centuries BC and AD.

Josephus and 2 Esd 12:10–51 identified the fourth empire as Rome. Childs acknowledges that the writers of the New Testament Gospels considered the Roman Empire to be the fourth kingdom, and Walton comments, ‘The evidence in the writings of the Church fathers is massive and in unison in favor of the Roman view.’ Only in modern times did the opinion that Greece was the fourth empire become widespread.

Commentary on Daniel 2 (Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream)

Three years after Daniel is brought to Babylon (602 BC), King Nebuchadnezzar has a recurring dream. He knows the dream is significant, so he asks the wise men who serve him to interpret the dream for him. There is a catch, though. He will not tell them what he dreamed; they have to figure that out for themselves, and then interpret its meaning. The wise men complain that only the gods could possibly know his dream and that what he asks is impossible.

It is interesting to note exactly what the wise men say to the king: “The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” The Babylonians are convinced that the gods do not dwell in the flesh, yet this is exactly what would happen 600 years later when Jesus Christ is born. Jesus’s birth completely refutes the pagan theology of the Babylonians, for He is God in the flesh.

The king then passes a death sentence on all the wise men in Babylon, for he has become convinced that they are all frauds. Daniel learns about the king’s decree and seeks a stay of execution from the king so that Daniel can have some time to figure out the dream and its interpretation.

Why is Nebuchadnezzar so anxious about the dream and why does he seemingly overreact when his wise men cannot tell him what the dream is? Stephen R. Miller, in vol. 18, Daniel, The New American Commentary, speculates that

the king probably felt that the dream foretold some terrible disaster that was going to befall him. After all, Nebuchadnezzar had seen a manlike statue destroyed, which he likely associated with himself or his empire. He may well have felt insecure about his newly acquired kingdom, and he may have considered the destruction of the statue a divine omen to him that he and his empire were doomed. Perhaps this led him to believe that someone was planning to assassinate him and take away his kingdom. With intrigue in the courts of that day common, such was a real possibility (two out of the next three Babylonian kings were assassinated). Traitors may have been in his midst planning to overthrow his government at that very moment. Since a coup usually was perpetrated by the military or the court, the king may have wondered if some of these very wise men were plotting against him. Thus he was not reluctant to rid himself of them.

Daniel and his three friends start praying to God that He will reveal the dream to them. That very night God reveals the dream and its meaning to Daniel in a vision. After offering a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God, Daniel promptly seeks an audience with the king to reveal the dream and its meaning. Daniel gives all the credit for the revelation of the dream to the “God in heaven” whom Daniel worships. Daniel agrees with the previous wise men that no human being could discover the mystery of the dream, but only the one true God who knows everything.

In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, he is standing in front of a massive statue. The statue is composed of 1) a head made of gold, 2) chest and arms of silver, 3) torso and thighs of bronze, 4) legs of iron, and 5) and feet made of a mixture of iron and clay. As the dream progresses, a rock, which is supernaturally cut out from a mountain, strikes the feet and destroys them, after which the entire statue disintegrates into dust and is blown away with the wind. The rock then grows in size until it is as big as the entire earth.

But what does this dream mean? Daniel explains that the head of gold symbolizes the Babylonian empire led by Nebuchadnezzar. His kingdom will be followed by another (the silver kingdom), and that kingdom will be followed by another (the bronze kingdom), and then finally the fourth kingdom will arise (the iron and clay kingdom). The rock that destroys the statue is a kingdom set up by God Himself. God’s kingdom will eradicate all of the human kingdoms and it will stand forever.

So what are the three kingdoms in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream? Most conservative scholars identify the silver kingdom as Medo-Persia, the empire that topples the Babylonians in 539 BC, initially led by Cyrus the Great.  The bronze kingdom is the Greek empire. The Greeks defeat the Medo-Persians in 332 BC. Alexander the Great is the first leader of the Greek empire. The iron kingdom is the Roman empire, which begins in 146 BC and would last 500 years before its split into east and west.

Most scholars likewise recognize that the rock which destroys the human kingdoms is Jesus Christ at His second coming. When the Messiah returns, He will set up his kingdom on earth and it will have no end.

How do we know Jesus is the rock in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream? In Luke 20, Jesus tells the parable of the son of the vineyard owner. In that parable (verses 17-18), Jesus quotes from Daniel 2 in reference to the rock. He identifies Himself as the Messiah, the rock which will crush the kingdoms of the world. Clearly Jesus believes that He is the rock of Daniel 2.

Nebuchadnezzar is amazed by Daniel and his God and he pays homage to them. As a reward to Daniel, he promotes him to ruler of the province of Babylon (the city) and also leader of all the wise men of Babylon. Daniel asks that his three friends also be promoted to serve Daniel in the province of Babylon, and his request is granted. Even though Daniel is probably not even yet twenty years old, he has become one of the most important people in the entire Babylonian empire.

The primary purpose of this story is to communicate the triumph of Daniel over the Babylonian wise men. Daniel serves an all-powerful, all-knowing God who can reveal to Daniel what the future holds. The Babylonian wise men worship false gods who know nothing about the future.

Additionally, Daniel 2 teaches us about the broad sweep of human history. Each of the successive world empires is inferior to the former – gold to silver to bronze to iron. There is a progressive decay in the world of men. Iain M. Duguid, in Daniel, Reformed Expository Commentary, writes,

In a real sense, this is not simply a vision of the decline and fall of the Babylonian empire and its immediate successors, but an epitaph for human history. The entire human endeavor, though gifted and blessed by God in the beginning with unparalleled glory and dominion, ends up in nothing but division and dissolution.

This vision of mankind runs counter to the narrative popular in our day, that mankind is improving itself and world we live in. Duguid explains the significance of the rock destroying the statue:

The final word of history does not lie with a new and improved version of the statue of man. Rather, it lies with something radical that God will do: a rock that is not hewn by human hands will strike and demolish the statue and then grow to fill the earth (Dan. 2:34–35). This rock clearly points to the kingdom that God will establish in the last days, a kingdom that starts small and lacking in glory but grows through the power of God until it ultimately dominates the entire globe and becomes the ultimate fact of history. Only that divine kingdom is eternal.

When Was the Book of Daniel Written?

Traditional scholarship holds that Daniel was written in the sixth century BC and is historically reliable, but many modern biblical scholars hold that Daniel was written in the second century BC and is pious fiction. Let’s take a look at some of the evidence offered for the second century date and responses to that evidence by critical scholarship.

Walt Kaiser and Duane Garrett, in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, summarize several lines of evidence:

Jesus ben Sirach (Sir 44– 50), 1 writing in approximately 180 B.C., cited numerous Old Testament heroes— but not Daniel.

Belshazzar is called ‘king’ of Babylon in Daniel 5; the actual king was Nabonidus.

Darius the Mede (5:31 and ch. 6) is otherwise unknown.

The stories of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity and of the fiery furnace read like pious legends— far-fetched miracle stories common in intertestamental Jewish texts.

Half of Daniel was written in Aramaic, a language Jews spoke during the intertestamental period. Daniel 3 also includes three Greek words— suggesting that the book was written after Greek culture had invaded the Near East.

How do traditionalists respond?

Ben Sirach also omits mention of other famous Israelites, including Ezra. Also, Sirach may himself have been influenced by Daniel. In Sirach 36:10 he prayed, ‘Hasten the day, and remember the appointed time’— verbiage resembling Daniel 11: 27, 35. It may be that ben Sirach offhandedly cited Daniel, which of course implies that the book already existed in his lifetime.

The book demonstrates familiarity with the history and culture of the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. Daniel rightly portrays the position of Belshazzar, coregent with Nabonidus. He could have appropriately been called ‘king’ (5: 1), but in 5: 16 Belshazzar offered to make the one who could interpret the writing on the wall ‘the third highest ruler in the kingdom.’ As Belshazzar was himself the second ruler, this was the highest honor he could confer.

Darius the Mede is not mentioned by that name outside the Bible. This is the kind of historical puzzle scholars frequently encounter in ancient texts. In contrast, intertestamental Jewish works of religious fiction lack historical credibility in a way that has no parallel in historical works. The Apocryphal book of Judith, for example, written during the reign of Antiochus IV, contains absurd historical blunders and is altogether unlike Daniel.

The miracles of Daniel are outside the ability of history or archaeology to prove. Still, the following observations are pertinent: Miracles do not prove that a work is fictional. Nebuchadnezzar’s madness was a rare but authentic clinical condition called boanthropy. ‘Made-up’ miracle stories contain outrageous elements with no clinical analogy (e.g., in Tb 2: 9– 10, another Apocryphal book, Tobit goes blind because of sparrow droppings in his eyes).

The fact that half of Daniel is written in Aramaic is a mystery with regard to any proposed reconstruction of its history. But the Aramaic of Daniel is ‘official,’ or ‘imperial’— the standardized Aramaic used in official correspondence when Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Near East (see 2Ki 18: 26; Ezr 4: 7; Da 2: 4), not the colloquial, regional Aramaic of second-century B.C. Palestine, at which time the common language of the region was Greek. All three of the Greek words of 3: 5 are musical terms. Greek poets and musicians were renowned, so their musical vocabulary came into use early. What would be surprising is how little Greek appears in Daniel, if the book had been written in the second century B.C., when the world was thoroughly Hellenized. The Persian words in Daniel are of an older, pre-Hellenistic Persian.

Stephen Miller, writing in the Apologetics Study Bible, offers additional evidence for the traditional dating of Daniel in the sixth century BC:

1. The NT writers and Jesus Himself accepted the traditional understanding of the prophecy (cp. Mt 24: 15 and Mk 13: 14; Mt 26: 64 and Mk 14: 62 and Lk 22: 69; Heb 11: 33-34).

2. The book professes to have been written by Daniel (see 7: 1; 12: 4), to be an account of a historical individual who experienced the exile and lived in Babylon, and to predict future events (e.g., 2: 29-45; 7: 2,15-27; 8: 15-26; 9: 24-27; 10: 14; 11: 2– 12: 4).

3. One of the eight manuscripts of Daniel discovered at Qumran (4QDanc) has been dated to about 125 b.c. and may have been written earlier. Some scholars have argued that there would have been insufficient time for the book of Daniel to have gained such widespread acceptance if it were written only 40 years previously.

4. The Septuagint was the Greek translation of the OT produced in Alexandria, Egypt, that came to be used widely by the Jews of the Diaspora. Scholars generally agree that at least the Pentateuch (first five books) was translated in the middle of the third century b.c., but it is likely that all the Bible books were translated into Greek about the same time. If so, a second century date for Daniel is impossible. According to the critical view, only 30 years after it was written, the book of Daniel was received into the canon and carried to Alexandria, approximately 300 miles away, and there translated into Greek. Such a proposal seems unlikely.

5. Ezekiel, the sixth-century prophet, mentioned Daniel three times in his book (Ezk 14: 14, 20; 28: 3)— seemingly clear verification of the traditional view. Critical scholars, however, insist Ezekiel was speaking of a mythological hero named Danel who appears in the ancient Ugaritic epic “The Tale of Aqhat.” A decisive argument against such a theory is that the epic Danel was an idolater, hardly a model of faithfulness to Israel’s God. Ezekiel must have been referring to the author of the book of Daniel. If so, the historicity of Daniel and his book would seem to be established.

Commentary on Daniel 1 (Daniel Resolves to Obey God in Babylon)

The traditional view of the book of Daniel is that it was written by Daniel or an associate of Daniel and completed around 530 BC. Some biblical scholars are skeptical that Daniel wrote the book and they attribute it to a second century BC Jew writing during the Maccabean revolt. More will be said about this in a subsequent blog post.

Assuming Daniel actually wrote the book, his purpose was to encourage the Jewish exile community. He reminded them that God is in control of everything and that in the future God would restore His people.

Daniel is also unique because it is the first example of apocalyptic literature in the Bible. Stephen R. Miller, in vol. 18, Daniel, The New American Commentary, explains what the apocalyptic genre is.

Canonical apocalyptic should be viewed positively as a method (or genre) employed by God to ‘unveil’ wonderful truths to his people. What is unveiled by apocalyptic? Two truths stand out. First, apocalyptic grants the world a glimpse of God himself. In Daniel and other apocalyptic works, God is portrayed as sovereign, just, and powerful. He is in control of the universe and the lives of individuals. Second, canonical apocalyptic works unveil the future, not in order to satisfy idle curiosity but as a source of comfort and encouragement to the saints during their time of need.

Daniel is taken to Babylon during the second deportation of Jerusalem in the year 605 BC. Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azaria, are evidently part of the royal family, or members of important noble families in Jerusalem. Because they were young (likely under sixteen years of age), intelligent, and physically healthy, they were selected by King Nebuchadnezzar to be trained as royal advisors. Training would typically take about three years and included being thoroughly educated and indoctrinated in Babylonian language, culture, and literature. Stephen Miller provides more details about their education:

They learned to speak and write the language of Babylon, which was a form of Akkadian known as Neo-Babylonian. Akkadian was written in cuneiform, which was made up of wedge-shaped characters, commonly engraved on clay tablets. Archaeologists have uncovered thousands of these texts. Daniel and his friends would have known several other languages, including Hebrew, Aramaic, and, later, Persian.

The chief court official, Ashpenaz, who is administering their education, gives them Babylonian names which they were expected to use going forward. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah became Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Why change their names? Iain Duguid, in Daniel, Reformed Expository Commentary, explains:

In place of their good Hebrew and Yahwistic names, Daniel (‘God is my judge’), Hananiah (‘the Lord is gracious’), Mishael (‘Who is what God is?’), and Azariah (‘The Lord is a helper’), they were assigned pagan, Babylonian names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (1:7). These Babylonian names invoked the help of the Babylonian gods, Marduk, Bel, and Nebo, rather than Israel’s Lord.

As part of their training, the four Hebrew youths are fed the same food as the king. This was to presumably keep them healthy because the king would eat only the finest food. Daniel and his four friends, however, did not want to eat the king’s food because it was forbidden by the Mosaic Law. In what sense was the royal food forbidden? Stephen Miller offers the following:

At least two factors would have caused these religious Jews to be reluctant to eat the king’s food. First, many of the foods eaten at the Babylonian court (e.g., pork and horseflesh) would have been unclean according to the law of Moses (cf. Lev 11 and Deut 14), either inherently or because they were not prepared properly; for example, the blood might not have been drained from the meat (cf. Lev 17:13–14). To eat such foods would have been a sin for an Israelite and would have rendered the individual ceremonially unclean before God.

Second, the meat and wine would have been undesirable because a portion of it was (at least on occasions if not always) first offered sacrificially to the Babylonian gods before being sent to the king and was therefore associated with idolatrous worship. Although wine was not forbidden by the Jewish law, Daniel’s aversion to drinking it probably is to be explained by its use as a libation in these pagan rituals.

Daniel asks permission of Ashpenaz to eat only fruits, vegetables, grains, and bread, and only drink water, but Ashpenaz is reluctant to agree to his request because he fears the king will have him killed if he is malnourishing the king’s Hebrew trainees.

So Daniel then moves down the chain of command and proposes to the steward who is overseeing them a ten-day test. If Daniel and his friends look healthy after ten days, the steward would allow them to continue with their preferred diet. The steward agrees and indeed, after ten days, they are healthier looking than the other trainees who are eating the king’s food. Thus they are allowed to continue their diet.

As chapter 1 ends, we learn that God gifts the four Hebrew youths with extraordinary knowledge and wisdom. God also gives Daniel the ability to interpret visions and dreams. When the three years is over, the king tests them and he finds them to be superior to all of the other trainees. They are all given the privilege of serving the king as his advisors. As time moved on, they proved themselves to be Nebuchadnezzar’s most valued advisors. Daniel would remain in the king’s court for decades, serving several different rulers. Daniel was blessed with a long life, probably living for 85-90 years.

Although Daniel and his friends refused to defile themselves with the king’s food, they still accepted jobs in the pagan king’s service. What can we learn from Daniel’s decisions in this chapter? Iain Duguid writes,

They did not refuse to work for the Babylonians, perhaps because they recognized the hand of God in their situation. They understood the word that the Lord gave through Jeremiah, that those whom he had sent to Babylon should labor there for the blessing of the place in which they found themselves (Jer. 29:4–7). As far as possible these young men sought to work within the system in which they had been placed, being good citizens of Babylon as well as of heaven. They didn’t kick against the challenging providence of God, but rather accepted it as their present calling, with all of its trials, pains, and limitations. This reminds us that our calling is not to form Christian ghettoes that are isolated from the world around us. On the contrary, we should be active in pursuing the common good of the community in which God has placed us, whatever challenges may face us.

When Can We Apply Old Testament Promises to New Testament Believers?

Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most popular verses in the Bible and many Christians apply its promise to their current situation. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Can this promise be applied to New Testament believers today? If so, how? In order to answer these questions, we need to review the proper way to interpret biblical passages.

The article entitled “How can we know what parts of the Bible apply to us today?” on gotquestions.org provides a list of principles for proper biblical interpretation:

1. Context. To understand fully, start small and extend outward: verse, passage, chapter, book, author and testament/covenant.

2. Try to come to grips with how the original audience would have understood the text.

3. Consider the width of the chasm between us and the original audience.

4. It’s a safe bet that any moral command from the Old Testament that is repeated in the New Testament is an example of a ‘timeless truth.’

5. Remember that each passage has one and only one correct interpretation, but can have many applications (some better than others).

6. Always be humble and don’t forget the role of the Holy Spirit in interpretation. He has promised to lead us into all truth (John 16:13).

The first two principles tell us to read the passage in historical context. How would the original audience have understood the text?

Jeremiah 29:11 is part of a letter that Jeremiah wrote to the Jewish exiles in Babylon around 594 BC. False prophets were telling the exiles that Babylon would soon be defeated and that they would be returning to their homeland within a couple of years. Jeremiah corrects the false prophets and explains that Babylon would be in power for about 70 more years and that the exiles should make Babylon their home and prepare for a long stay. The exiles receiving the letter would likely die in Babylon, along with their children. It would be their grandchildren or great-grandchildren who are finally allowed to return to Judah.

Given this historical context, when Jeremiah tells the exiles that God has plans for them to prosper and not be harmed, he must be referring to the descendants of the exiles, not the exiles themselves. The nation of Israel (consisting of the remnant of believers in exile) would be returned to the Promised Land at a future date, so the exiles could have hope for the future of their people. But the people receiving the letter from Jeremiah were not going to return home. They would have to live in a foreign land and suffer under Babylonian rule.

When a Christian applies this verse to himself today, he cannot claim this verse as a promise that God is going to cause him to prosper in his current life situation. This verse doesn’t guarantee that God will make every Christian be wealthy, have a dream job, meet the perfect spouse, and be physically and mentally healthy. This is not a verse that guarantees a pain-free life. To apply the verse in this way is to completely twist the original meaning of the verse, as heard by the exile community in Babylon.

If the verse cannot be applied in that way, then how can it be applied?  Here are a couple of suggestions. First, we learn that God keeps His promises to us. Even though the Jews were exiled because of their sins, God still did not abandon them. Second, as Christians, God has promised us that no matter what happens on earth, those who trust His Son Jesus Christ will spend eternity with Him.

Commentary on Jeremiah 27-29 (God’s Instructions to the Exiles)

The Book of Jeremiah was written by the prophet of that name over the course of his ministry, which lasted from approximately 626 – 580 BC. Jeremiah tells us that he dictated his words to his secretary, Baruch. Jeremiah began his ministry during the thirteenth year of King Josiah, and he continued preaching through the reigns of Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. He lingered in Jerusalem even after Nebuchadnezzar finally destroyed the city in 586 BC.

With regard to Jeremiah’s message, Walt Kaiser Jr. and Duane Garrett write in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible:

Reclusive, analytical and self-critical by nature— he has aptly been called the ‘weeping prophet’— Jeremiah also preached an unpopular message. The people of Judah were in apostasy, God would not protect them and they were obliged to submit to Babylonian demands. Above all, and despite the promise that someday God would give Israel a new covenant (Jer 31), the prophet’s overall message was one of doom and gloom: Jerusalem was soon to fall. Because of his negative stance, Jeremiah was widely despised and continuously in danger (11: 18– 23; 26: 8; 38: 6). On at least one occasion the text of his message was destroyed by the king (36: 20– 24). Even Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch, was dismayed about his own future (ch. 45). Jeremiah, an old man, lived to see his words fulfilled and Jerusalem destroyed.

As chapter 27 opens, the year is 594 BC and Zedekiah is king in Judah. Zedekiah has invited ambassadors from neighboring nations to Jerusalem to decide whether to rebel against Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar.

God instructs Jeremiah to make an ox yoke and place it around his neck. An ox yoke was made of wooden bars fastened around the neck by leather straps. It was placed on cattle to steer them for plowing or threshing.

Jeremiah goes to the ambassadors and gives them the very unpopular message that they are to submit to Babylonian rule (symbolized by the ox yoke around Jeremiah’s neck) until God ends the Babylonian empire in the distant future. F. B. Huey, in vol. 16, Jeremiah, Lamentations, The New American Commentary, explains that “the expression ‘his son and his grandson’ (lit. “son’s son”) must not be taken literally. It is an idiom for a long period of time.” If they rebel against Babylon, God Himself will punish them with sword, famine, and pestilence. The Babylonian Empire would eventually be defeated by Persia under Cyrus in 539 BC.

Jeremiah makes clear to King Zedekiah and the foreign envoys that God has chosen Nebuchadnezzar to rule over their nations. If they rebel against Babylon, they are rebelling against God. Jeremiah warns them to ignore false prophets who are promising victory over Babylon if they will rebel. The nations who submit to Babylon will not have their capitals destroyed and their people deported. Unfortunately, we know that Judah did not heed Jeremiah’s words and did attempt to escape Babylonian rule, only to be crushed in 586 BC.

As we skip ahead to chapter 28, Jeremiah is confronted by a prophet of Judah named Hananiah. Hananiah tells the people of Jerusalem that God will break the Babylonians and return all the exiles and all the treasures of the temple in two years. He then takes the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck, breaks it, and repeats that Babylon will fall within two years.

Is Hananiah knowingly lying about his prophecy or does he sincerely believe that God has told him Babylon will fall within two years? No one can say for sure, but Hananiah may have been persuaded to make his bold prediction because of the events unfolding in Babylon at that time. F. B. Huey writes,

The Babylonian Chronicles indicate that Nebuchadnezzar was putting down a revolt in Babylon at that time. His preoccupation with troubles elsewhere may have encouraged Hananiah’s optimistic belief of imminent return of the exiles. It is probable, therefore, that Hananiah thought of himself as a real prophet of God. People must, however, be cautious when they confuse their own desires and ideas (i.e., Hananiah) with those of God.

Jeremiah responds that he hopes Hananiah is right, but that Hananiah is contradicting the many prophets who preceded him. They predicted war, famine, and pestilence because of the sins of Judah. If Hananiah is predicting peace instead, then his word must be tested. If Babylon falls and peace comes within two years, then Hananiah is the true prophet. Jeremiah is invoking the test of Deut 18:20–22.

Some time after this occurs, God speaks to Jeremiah and settles the dispute. God reiterates that He has chosen Nebuchadnezzar to rule over Judah and that Judah and the surrounding nations must submit to Babylonian rule. To fight against Babylon is to fight against God Himself. God tells Jeremiah that Hananiah is a false prophet who is lying to the people. To prove this is true, God decrees that Hananiah will die within the year (death was the penalty for false prophets prescribed in Deut 13:5; 18:20). He dies less than two months later, thus proving that he was a false prophet.

There are not only false prophets in Jerusalem who are predicting the soon return of the exiles, there are false prophets among the exile community in Babylon who are saying the same things. In chapter 29, Jeremiah writes a letter to the exile community to counter the false prophets among them.

Jeremiah’s instructions to the exiles are to settle down and make Babylon their home. They are to build houses and families. They are to pray for the Babylonians and seek their good. They are not to listen to the prophets who are telling them that Babylon will fall and they will return home soon. Huey notes that

this is the only place in the OT where prayer for one’s enemies and for unbelievers is commended (cf. Matt 5:43–48; Rom 12:21; Titus 3:1–2; 1 Pet 2:18). It was practical advice though difficult to put into practice. It has never been easy to pray for one’s enemies. However, it was in their best interest to do so. If Babylon prospered, the exiles would prosper also. Praying for the government has become a Jewish custom.

After 70 years in exile, God will bring the Jews back to the Promised Land. God reassures the exiles that He has not abandoned them, that His plans are to bring them back and give them peace and prosperity. When the exiles seek after God, God will be found by them.

How Can God Be Both Merciful and Wrathful at the Same Time?

Within the Bible, God is described as wrathful over one hundred times. We see God’s wrath mentioned in Ezekiel 8:18 after God shows Ezekiel the idol worship taking place in the temple precincts. In the same Bible, however, God is said to be merciful. How can the same God be both wrathful and merciful? Aren’t these opposites of each other?

Theologian Norman Geisler, in Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation, explains in very simple and succinct terms how this is possible.

Wrath and mercy are not incompatible, since they are exercised toward different objects; wrath is on the unrepentant, and mercy is on the repentant. As established previously, God is consistently and unchangeably angry with sin and consistently and unchangeably delighted with righteousness.

God acts mercifully toward those who repent of their sins, while God displays His wrath toward those who are unrepentant. There is simply no inconsistency.

There is a further objection about God’s wrath. Some people cite New Testament passages which speak of Jesus Christ taking the wrath of God for sinners. If Jesus took God’s wrath, then nobody should be subjected to God’s wrath any more. Geisler answers this objection:

This objection is based on a misunderstanding of what Christ did on the cross. The salvation of everyone was not applied; it was simply purchased. All persons were made savable, but not all persons were automatically saved. The gift was made possible by the Savior, but it must be received by the sinner (Eph. 2:8–9; cf. John 1:12). In short, the salvation of all sinners from God’s eternal wrath is possible, but only those who accept Christ’s payment for their sins will actually be saved from it.

Commentary on Ezekiel 8-11 (God Leaves the Temple)

The Book of Ezekiel was written by the prophet of that name who was born around the year 623 BC and lived until at least 571 BC. The date of his death is uncertain.

Ezekiel was born into a priestly family and lived in Jerusalem until the year 597 BC. This was the year that King Nebuchadnezzar attacked Judah a second time and carried much of the nobility, including Ezekiel, to Babylon.

Peter C. Craigie, in Ezekiel, The Daily Study Bible Series, writes that

Ezekiel belonged to a community established at a place called Tel Abib, by the ‘River’ Chebar, which was actually an irrigation canal, drawing waters from the River Euphrates near the city of Babylon itself. The exiles built for themselves houses with mud bricks and settled there in a strange environment, not too far from the extraordinary capital city of the Emperor Nebuchadnezzar. It was in his fifth year as an exile in Tel Abib that Ezekiel had a profound religious experience. He was thirty years old at the time; if he had still been living in Jerusalem, it was the age at which he would have assumed the full responsibilities of priesthood. But instead he was called to the task of a prophet, of being a spokesman for God. For more than twenty years, he served as a prophet among the exiles. The last of his prophecies that can be dated with any certainty was given in 571 B.C., when he was in late middle-age.

Ezekiel received the first of a series of 14 visions in 593 BC, seven years before Jerusalem would be completely destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. His ministry was aimed at the Jewish exile community both before and after the fall of Jerusalem. All forty-eight chapters of his book are arranged chronologically and his visions are dated.

Craigie summarizes the overall message of the Book of Ezekiel:

The Jews of his time were faced with an enormous question; to put it in modern words, had their religion come to an end? Phrased so bluntly, it may sound foolish, especially with our knowledge of later history. Yet it was a real and awesome question at the time. The religion of the Hebrews had been linked intimately, before Ezekiel’s time, to the existence of the state of Israel and the possession of the promised land. And yet those two foundations upon which the faith had been established were crumbling before their very eyes. Had their failure, and that of their ancestors, been so terrible that God had finally given up on his people? In such an age, and to such questions, the message of Ezekiel was particularly powerful. He spoke of doom and judgment, but ultimately his faith and message outstripped the reality of contemporary experience. Ultimately, there was hope. Even the disasters of those decades somehow had a purpose in God’s plan. The events would somehow conspire to declare to the people that God was indeed the Lord. And so the final impression that is left after reading this extraordinary book is one of hope. It is not an unqualified and naive hope, but it is real nevertheless.

Chapters 8-11 contain the second of Ezekiel’s visions while he is living in exile in Babylon. The date is September 17, 592 BC. Recall that 592 BC is after the second deportation of Jerusalem, but before the final deportation and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The exile community is still hoping that God will save Judah and Jerusalem from Babylon, and they are seeking Ezekiel’s word on the matter.

Ezekiel is transported, in a vision, to the temple in Jerusalem by God Himself. God intends to show Ezekiel, and thus the leaders in the exile community, why He will not save Jerusalem. God will show Ezekiel four examples of the idolatrous worship taking place on the grounds of the temple itself.


As seen in the figure above, there were two courts of the temple, the inner and outer. What cannot be seen is that there are gates leading from the outer court to the inner court on the north (top), south (bottom), and east (right) sides of the complex. There was no gate on the west (left) side.

Ezekiel is first transported to the north gate and he sees what is called the “image of jealousy.” It is clear this is an idol of some kind, and many scholars believe it is an Asherah pole. Asherah is the Canaanite goddess of love and was considered to the mistress or consort of El, the highest god in the Canaanite pantheon. This idol is set up right near the northern gate in the temple complex, side by side with the glory of God (the temple symbolizes God’s earthly dwelling).

In verses 7-13, God leads Ezekiel to a secret room that was built on the temple grounds where seventy elders of Israel are worshiping Egyptian gods that are painted on the wall. These are supposed to be the leaders of Israel and they are hiding away in a room to conduct their own form of blasphemous idol worship. They believe that God has forsaken the land and thus cannot see them.

Peter C. Craigie aptly writes:

The elders suffered from the delusion of secrecy. They thought they could act without being seen, and though primarily their secrecy was directed towards their people, at a deeper level it was an attempt to remain secret from God. Yet Ezekiel is standing there, and God is with him, observing the action.

There are no secrets from God. To act as if there were is the height of folly. For human life is conducted on a stage like the interrogation room of a modern police department; the insiders cannot see out, but the observers can see and hear all that goes on inside the room. All speech and behavior should be conducted with an awareness that ultimately there are no secrets from God.

God then moves Ezekiel back to the north gate and there Ezekiel witnesses a group of women worshiping the god Tammuz. Charles H. Dyer explains in The Bible Knowledge Commentary that

‘Tammuz’ is the Hebrew form of the name of the Sumerian god Dumuzi, the deity of spring vegetation. The apparent death of all vegetation in the Middle East during the hot, dry summer months was explained in mythology as caused by Tammuz’s death and descent into the underworld. During that time his followers would weep, mourning his death. In the spring Tammuz would emerge victoriously from the underworld and bring with him the life-giving rains. The worship of Tammuz also involved fertility rites.

The fourth and final example given to Ezekiel involves twenty-five Levitical priests in the inner courtyard facing toward the east and worshiping the sun. Note that facing toward the east means that their backs were toward the temple. They had figuratively and literally turned their backs on God.

Craigie explains the totality of the idol worship witnessed by Ezekiel.

The four scenes with which this great vision begins, taken together, form a comprehensive condemnation of Israel’s worship. All were involved, with no exceptions. The idol of Asherah at the north gate indicated the popular worship of the people. The secret room of sacrilegious murals demonstrated the distinctive failure of the nation’s leaders, the elders. The weeping women illustrated the loss of faith in the Living God. And, in the midst of it all, even the priests were turning backwards in their misdirected attempts at worship. And not only were all the people engaged in this folly; they were without discrimination in their choice of idols. The idol of Asherah represented the religion of Canaan; the secret murals were drawn from the religion of Egypt. The weeping women turned to a god of Babylon, while the priests worshipped the sun, whose cult was practised in almost every nation of the ancient Near East.

After showing Ezekiel the abominations in the temple complex, God says,

Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations that they commit here, that they should fill the land with violence and provoke me still further to anger? Behold, they put the branch to their nose. Therefore I will act in wrath. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.

In chapter nine, Ezekiel witnesses the destruction of the people of Jerusalem by God. All who have turned against Him are executed. This vision is a foreshadowing of the Babylonian attack in 586 BC.

Chapters ten and eleven report the most devastating consequence of Judah’s betrayal: God’s glory leaves the temple of Jerusalem. Ezekiel sees God mount what looks like a chariot. The chariot is composed of a throne sitting on a large platform. Underneath the platform are four cherubim and four double-wheels. The cherubim and the wheels move the chariot wherever God wills. See the figure below.


God summons a man dressed in white linen to come to the cherubim under the chariot and receive burning coals from them. The burning coals are to be scattered around the city of Jerusalem. Lamar Eugene Cooper, in vol. 17, Ezekiel, The New American Commentary, writes,

Some see this as a rite of purification; others see it as an act of judgment. Both ideas are appropriate. Judgment from God is redemptive in its purpose, not purely punitive. His ultimate goal was the restoration of the nation through a purified remnant.

God moves, on the chariot, from the interior of the temple to the eastern gate of the inner courtyard. The eastern gate faces out over the Valley of Kidron. On the other side of the valley is the Mount of Olives. God lingers at the eastern gate, as if He is giving Jerusalem one last chance to repent.

Finally, in chapter 11, verses 22-25, God rises up from the eastern gate and exits the city. His chariot transports Him to the Mount of Olives, where He makes his final departure from the temple and Jerusalem. Cooper writes:

The departure of the glory of God from the Mount of Olives was the final step in the judgment process. The removal of his blessing signaled the end of his longsuffering with a disobedient and rebellious people. God had exhausted every means of soliciting repentance from the people. Therefore he removed the glory that was the sign of his presence so that judgment might run its full course. The absence of the glory signaled the last stage in the process of reprobation of the self-willed people of the nation.

Ezekiel reported everything he saw to the elders in exile. What were they to do with this information? What hope was left? Craigie explains that hope now rested with the exile community. The residents of Jerusalem had been completely rejected by God.

And so it was upon the exiles that the future now depended. Thinking themselves to be useless, they had looked to others in far off Jerusalem to provide a source of hope. But the tables were being turned. If there was hope to be found, it lay within them, not in the empty hands of others far away. The citizens of Jerusalem had already written off the exiles as irrelevant to the future of their city. Indeed, the exiles themselves thought that there was nothing they could do. But now they were learning that the weak of this world were the ones through whom God would work. And such new hope was not without its attendant anxiety, for it involved awesome responsibility.

Yet the message of the prophet to his fellow exiles carried with it a potent promise, to be developed still further later in his ministry. The future now lay with those in exile, yet it was plain for all to see that they did not have in themselves the strength to undertake the task. The enabling power would be provided by God in the gift of a new spirit and a new heart (see further 36:26). The doomed citizens of the city had built by themselves, and their buildings would soon come toppling down. The exiles, in their mission, would have to learn to build in a new way, employing the strength coming from their new and God-given heart and spirit.

Commentary on 2 Kings 24-25 (The Fall of Judah)

At the end of chapter 23, King Josiah is killed by the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco in 609 BC. Shortly thereafter Neco places one of Josiah’s sons, Jehoiakim, on the throne of Judah. Judah has now become a vassal of Egypt and the king heavily taxes his people in order to pay the tribute to Egypt.

Chapters 24-25 of 2 Kings span the last 23 years of the nation of Judah. The account is rapid-fire and introduces numerous people to the reader. In order to help us see more clearly the order of events, I’ve placed a timeline below which is borrowed from Lawrence O. Richards’ The Teacher’s Commentary.

609 BC – Josiah slain in battle at Megiddo; Jehoiakim, son of Josiah, becomes king

605 BC – Babylon defeats Egypt at Carchemish; Nebuchadnezzar becomes king of Babylon; First deportation to Babylon includes Daniel

604 BC – Nebuchadnezzar receives tribute in Palestine

601 BC – Nebuchadnezzar defeated near Egypt

598 BC – Jehoiakim dies; Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim, rules from December 9, 598 to March 16, 597; is then deported April 22 to Babylon

597 BC – Nebuchadnezzar chooses Zedekiah, son of Josiah, to become king of Judah; Ezekiel taken to Babylon

588 BC – Babylon lays siege to Jerusalem on January 15

587 BC – Jeremiah imprisoned (Jer. 32:1–2)

586 BC – Zedekiah flees; He is captured and blinded by Nebuchadnezzar; A few months later, Nebuchadnezzar orders Jerusalem sacked and destroyed

In the final 23 years of Judah, there are actually three deportations. The first occurs in 605 BC when Nebuchadnezzar becomes the king of Babylon. He defeats Egypt and thus assumes control of all of Egypt’s vassal states, Judah being one of them. Nebuchadnezzar then marches into Judah and demands loyalty from Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim submits and allows Nebuchadnezzar to take some of the nobility and members of the royal family to Babylon. Daniel is among this first group of exiles.

The second deportation occurs in 597 BC when Nebuchadnezzar again marches on Jerusalem, this time because Jehoiakim is rebelling against Babylonian rule. By the time he arrives, Jehoiakim has already died and his son Jehoiachin is king. Jehoiachin surrenders to Nebuchadnezzar and is taken in captivity to Babylon.

This time around Nebuchadnezzar also takes many of the treasures of the temple and palace. He takes captive virtually all the military officers and 7,000 soldiers, as well as 1,000 craftsmen and artisans. Ten thousand people are taken captive, including Ezekiel.

The third and final deportation occurs in 586 BC after Nebuchadnezzar has again laid siege to Jerusalem. This time Nebuchadnezzar attacks because his puppet, King Zedekiah, has rebelled and joined forces with Egypt. Once Zedekiah is captured and hauled off to Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar sees to it that Judah will never again bother him.

Verses 8-17 in chapter 25 of 2 Kings recount the destruction. The Babylonians burn the temple, the palace, and all the major buildings in Jerusalem. The walls of the city are destroyed. Before burning the temple, the Babylonians carry off everything of value. Jerusalem, the city that David established as the capital of the united kingdom of Israel around 1000 BC, is now completely and utterly destroyed, with all but the poorest Israelites marched off to Babylon.

Paul R. House, in vol. 8, 1, 2 Kings, The New American Commentary, writes,

For covenant-minded readers the loss of the temple means much more than the destruction of a significant public building. To them the temple symbolizes God’s presence in the midst of the chosen people, ongoing worship of Yahweh, the possibility of receiving forgiveness by the offering of sacrifice, and the opportunity to gather as a unified nation at festival time. Of course, the temple was rarely used properly, yet as long as it stood, the hope for the ideal existed. Now what will happen to God’s people?

The unthinkable has finally occurred. After centuries of warnings, God has removed Israel from the Promised Land. Is the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people a surprise? It shouldn’t be. The Mosaic covenant has been broken by king after king for centuries. The people of Israel and Judah have strayed further and further from loving Yahweh, instead choosing to worship false gods made of metal and wood. Paul House recounts the warnings given to the people of Israel ever since the days of Moses.

This event is the most devastating punishment Moses can use to threaten people who desperately seek a home of their own (Deut 27–28). It is what Israel barely avoids in Judges, what Samuel warns the people about in 1 Samuel 12, and what Solomon fears in 1 Kgs 8:22–61. Isaiah predicts the exile (Isa 39:1–8), as do Jeremiah (Jer 7:1–15), Ezekiel (Ezek 20:1–49), Amos (Amos 2:4–5; 6:1–7), Micah (Mic 3:12), Habakkuk (Hab 1:5–11), and Zephaniah (Zeph 1:4–13). Jeremiah and Ezekiel live during the exile, while Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi live in its aftermath. Clearly, it is one of the defining events in the Old Testament story.

Four biblical writers lived during the last days of Judah: Habakkuk, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Habakkuk and Jeremiah were both prophesying in and around Jerusalem, while Ezekiel and Daniel began their ministries after they had been exiled to Babylon during the first and second deportations (Daniel in 605 BC and Ezekiel in 597 BC).

Even though the people have been exiled and the land has been lost, God’s spokesmen continue to preach and write to the remnant of Israel. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel all have important messages to give to the people of God (which we will study in the coming weeks). The destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC is the end of an era, but it is not the end of God’s plan for Israel and the rest of the world.

Why Doesn’t the Author of 2 Kings Mention Manasseh’s Repentance?

In 2 Chronicles 33, the author records the capture of Manasseh by the Assyrians, his subsequent imprisonment, and then his repentance and return to Jerusalem. None of this material is recorded in the parallel account of Manasseh in 2 Kings 21. Why might this be the case and, secondly, is the account in 2 Chronicles historically plausible? Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe tackle the first question in When Critics Ask : A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties:

Apparently the author of 2 Kings did not record the repentance of Manasseh because of the lack of influence it had upon the steady decline of the nation. The Book of 2 Kings concentrates primarily upon the actions of the covenant people of God as a whole. The repentance and reforms of Manasseh did relatively little to turn the nation around from its path to judgment, while his sinful leadership early in his reign did much more damage to the nation. Even in the 2 Chronicles passage we find this statement: ‘Nevertheless the people still sacrificed on the high places, but only to the Lord their God’ (2 Chron. 33:17). Even though the people dedicated their sacrifices to the Lord, they were still committing sin, because sacrifices were to be made at the temple, not upon high places which were originally altars to false gods. Despite the efforts of Manasseh, the people would not totally dedicate themselves to the Lord.

Is the account of Manasseh being taken by the Assyrians plausible historically? J. A. Thompson, in vol. 9, 1, 2 Chronicles, The New American Commentary, attempts to answer this question for us.

A historical question has been raised in regard to Manasseh’s captivity in Babylon, taken there by Assyrian forces, since there is no extrabiblical documentation for these events. This fact is not, of course, a sufficient reason for rejecting their historicity. Assyrian records are by no means sufficiently comprehensive to allow any argument from silence to decide the issue. There is valuable circumstantial evidence which has persuaded a good number of scholars that historical events underlie the Chronicler’s narrative. The Assyrian records mention Manasseh. He is listed among twenty-two kings of Hatti, the seashore, and the islands, who were summoned to Nineveh by Esarhaddon (650–669 B.C.) to bring building materials for a new palace. Asshur- banipal (668–627 B.C.) mentions him among vassal kings who participated in a campaign against Egypt.

In these references Manasseh appears as submissive to the Assyrian king. The question is asked regarding what historical circumstances would have brought about his humiliation and punishment by Assyria. Various proposals have been made. Manasseh quite possibly may have been on the side of Shamash-shum-ukin, who revolted against his brother Asshur-banipal. The inscriptions of both Esarhaddon and Asshur-banipal abound in references to Egypt and the Palestinian states in the time of Manasseh, who reigned for fifty-five years.

One other important Assyrian source is the vassal-treaties of Esarhaddon dated in the year 672 B.C. The crown prince of Assyria, Asshur-banipal, was inducted at a special ceremony where representatives of all the lands under Assyrian control were present. These representatives were sworn not to arouse the anger of the gods and goddesses against him and to serve Ashur as their god. They were bound by fearful oaths to support the crown prince after the death of his father. These treaties are not entirely intact, and the name of Manasseh does not appear. But the interest and activity of both Esarhaddon and Asshur-banipal in the west may well have forced compliance with their demands on Judah. Naturally vassals took opportunity to deviate from the treaty obligations laid upon them and even to rebel. In fact, numerous rebellions are attested in the reigns of Esarhaddon and Asshur-banipal.

By all accounts, the Chronicler’s narrative is historically reliable, but it of course includes a theological wording.

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