Alexander the Great and Bible Prophecy
MANY persons have gone through high schools and colleges thinking that they know the story of Alexander the Great. But often such persons are entirely unaware of the most important fact concerning Alexander: His career of speedy conquest was foretold in Bible prophecy.
Jehovah gave his prophet Daniel advance information concerning the rise and fall of world powers. Between 618 and 535 B.C. Daniel received from God prophecies concerning the rise of Greece as the world power to supplant Medo-Persia and concerning the role Alexander was to play in connection therewith. About two hundred years before Alexander was born, Daniel had foretold the conqueror of Medo-Persia: “And a mighty king will certainly stand up and rule with extensive dominion and do according to his will. And when he will have stood up, his kingdom will be broken and be divided toward the four winds of the heavens, but not to his posterity.”—Dan. 11:3, 4.
This “mighty king” came to the throne of Macedonia at twenty years of age, in the year 336 B.C. This was the same year that the king of the fourth world power, Medo-Persia, received the throne, namely, Darius III. A speedy conquest of Medo-Persia and other nations was foretold in Bible prophecies. The rise of the Macedonian or Grecian line of world rulers was foretold, for instance, at Daniel 7:6 under the symbol of a leopard with “four wings of a flying creature”; at Daniel 8:5 under the symbol of a he-goat that came “from the sunset upon the surface of the whole earth, and it was not touching the earth.” We are not left in doubt as to the identity of the he-goat, for Daniel said: “The hairy he-goat stands for the king of Greece.”—Dan. 8:21.
The symbolic he-goat’s not touching the earth and the symbolic leopard’s having wings indicate what? Speed and swiftness of conquest. Let us see with what swiftness Alexander conquered the world, in fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
His army was not of great size. Alexander had about 30,000 infantrymen and 5,000 cavalrymen. But the army was well organized. Most of the officers had experience in campaigns under Alexander’s father, Philip II. It was Philip who introduced the phalanx, and Alexander perfected it.
What gave the phalanx its singular character? It was both the weapons and the coordination of the individual soldiers. The members of the phalanx were heavily armed, equipped with helmet, armor and a shield that protected most of the body. Their main weapons were a lance or spear thirteen to eighteen feet long and a short Greek sword. They usually stood sixteen deep, the lances of the first five files projecting beyond the front, a formidable barrier to any enemy; the hinder files laid their lances on the shoulders of those in front. Members of the phalanx received strenuous gymnastic training to make possible unity, precision and rapidity. Alexander coupled the phalanx with heavy cavalry charges. He also used light-armed troops for special purposes.
On the banks of the river Granicus, Alexander won his first victory over the forces of the Persian king, Darius III. The Persian cavalry had lined the bank of the river, with the infantry kept back in reserve. Alexander, appearing with his army on the other side of the river, was, as one historian puts it, “particularly conspicuous by his shield, and the plume of feathers that overshadowed his helmet, on the two sides of which there rose two wings, as it were, of a great length, and so very white, that they dazzled the eyes of the beholder.” In the ensuing battle, the Persian cavalry, though greatly outnumbering Alexander’s, could not offer effective opposition to the phalanx with its array of long pikes. The Persian infantry, who had looked on the cavalry battle that had just ended disastrously for the Persians, were routed next. Alexander’s victory struck terror in the Persians, especially so because of the large number of Persian grandees killed, two of them by Alexander’s own hand.
A famous general in the service of the Persians, Memnon of Rhodes, devised a plan to stop Alexander. The Persians would carry the war to Macedonia and force Alexander to return home. Ships were readied and troops put aboard. But suddenly Memnon died. Darius did not carry out Memnon’s plans to use Persian wealth and ships to carry the war to Macedonia. Darius decided to fight it out in a general battle in which he personally would take command. The Persian king collected a vast army of some 600,000 men. Relying on the numerical strength of his army, and anxious for a general battle, Darius let Alexander advance unopposed, even through mountain passes and defiles that could have been formidable strongholds of Persian defense.
In the ensuing battle at Issus, the Persians were unprepared for the suddenness and vehemence of the Macedonian attack. Darius III, in his chariot, perceived the desertion of some of his forces and turned around and fled with the foremost of the fugitives. The rout of the Persian army was complete, Alexander even capturing Darius’ mother, wife, sister, infant son and two daughters—brought along to witness what was to have been a spectacular victory for Darius.
THE FALL OF TYRE
After the battle at Issus, Alexander did not continue on in the pursuit of Darius. Rather, Alexander turned his attention to Tyre. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had destroyed mainland Tyre many years before, after a siege of thirteen years. Jehovah God had used Nebuchadnezzar as his servant to punish mainland Tyre. (Ezek. 29:18-20) Now new Tyre, the island city, was to be punished, even as foretold by God’s prophet Zechariah: “Look! Jehovah himself will dispossess her, and into the sea he will certainly strike down her military force; and in the fire she herself will be devoured.” (Zech. 9:4) Jehovah’s purpose to punish island Tyre for its pride and wickedness resulted in one of the most unusual conquests in history.
Tyre refused to allow Alexander entrance into the city. Angered Alexander threatened to break down the city gates if they were not opened. This threat did not impress the Tyrians. Had not the island city shown itself impregnable against enemies? Besides, what could Alexander with phalanxes and cavalry and no navy do against an island city? Little did the Tyrians expect Alexander to go to all the effort to construct a causeway or mole out to their island!
“That Alexander’s method of attack was not anticipated is not strange,” says Wallace B. Fleming in The History of Tyre, “for there was no precedent for it in the annals of warfare. The walls which surrounded the city rose to the height of a hundred and fifty feet on the side toward the mainland. Their stones were of such a size and so well laid as to be secure against any engines of attack that could be operated from the unsteady surface of the water. Successful assault was impossible unless engines of war could be planted on firm ground and brought to the height of the wall. But the island was separated by a channel a half mile wide, through which the current ran very swiftly and which, especially when the south wind blew, was very dangerous for shipping.”
But where would Alexander get material with which to build a mole to the island? Why, much of it could come from the ruins of old Tyre. Arrian, the Greek historian who wrote a biography of Alexander based on the writings of two of his generals, relates that Alexander scraped the very dust from old Tyre and placed it in the water. This action of Alexander’s was foretold in Bible prophecy, for Jehovah had said: “I will scrape her dust away from her and make her a shining, bare surface of a crag. . . . Your stones and your woodwork and your dust they will place in the very midst of the water.”—Ezek. 26:4, 12.
Work on the mole was often interrupted. Strong currents washed out some of the work. Tyrian naval vessels approached and archers harassed the workmen. Tyrian efforts and strong currents wrecked much of the construction, and Alexander started over again. This time he determined to build a wider mole so more machines could be set up against the city. Whole trees were used. But Tyrian divers plunged into the water and attached hooks to the projecting boughs. They dragged the trees out, causing the collapse of parts of the construction. Alexander needed a navy to protect his workmen. From Sidon, Aradus (Arwad), Byblus, Cyprus and other places Alexander collected a navy of about two hundred ships. The Tyrians, surprised that Alexander could get so suddenly so strong a navy, decided against a general naval battle. With a fleet to protect his construction, Alexander quickly brought the mole up to the city wall.
To overcome the problem of the wall’s height, Alexander had tremendous mobile towers constructed. “A drawbridge on the front of the towers enabled a surprise attack to be made on the enemy’s walls,” says Werner Keller in The Bible as History. “They were the highest siege towers ever used in the history of war. Each of them had twenty stories and the topmost platform towered, at a height of over 160 feet, far above the highest city walls.”
The Tyrians fought back by tying grappling hooks to long ropes and throwing them out, dragging soldiers on the towers to their death. The Tyrians built machines to throw red-hot metal at the enemy. They also heated sand in shields of brass and iron and poured it down on Alexander’s soldiers who approached the wall. The sand, sifting under the armor, caused such pain that the soldiers cast off their armor, exposing themselves to arrows from the walls.
Alexander ordered an all-out assault. The Macedonians on the towers battled to get across on the drawbridges. Ships with battering rams attacked the city wall north and south of the mole. The ships on the south soon made a breach. Bridges were thrown across and storming parties from other vessels went across. Alexander landed with one of the storming parties and was among the first on the wall. Meanwhile, Alexander’s navy forced its way into Tyre’s harbor and defeated the bottled-up Tyrian fleet. Soon Macedonians were entering Tyre from every direction. The slaughter in the streets and squares was tremendous. The Macedonians, enraged by the stubborn resistance of the city, showed no mercy. A large part of Tyre was burned. Some 8,000 Tyrians were killed and 2,000 young men impaled on the seashore as a reprisal for the killing of Macedonian prisoners. Some 30,000 Tyrians were sold into slavery. The siege had lasted from the middle of January till the middle of July, 332 B.C.
Alexander next entered Jerusalem, where, as historian Charles Rollin says in his Ancient History, “the high-priest, afterwards, showed him those passages in the prophecy of Daniel, which are spoken of that monarch. . . . We may easily figure to ourselves the great joy and admiration with which Alexander was filled, upon hearing such clear, such circumstantial, and advantageous promises. Before he left Jerusalem, he assembled the Jews, and bid them ask any favor whatever.”
Alexander then moved into Egypt, which, weary of the Persian yoke, greeted him as a deliverer. At the mouth of the Nile he founded the city of Alexandria, in 332 B.C.
Alexander turned northward again and started for Babylon with an army of about 47,000 men. Darius III made several overtures for peace. To his last overture Alexander replied to his embassy: “Would he [Darius] be satisfied with ranking himself as second to me, without pretending to be my equal, I might possibly then hear him. Tell him that the world will not permit two suns, nor two sovereigns.”
VICTORY AT GAUGAMELA
So Darius prepared for battle. This time Darius collected an army about twice as large as had fought at Issus. He amassed an army of about 1,000,000 men. Alexander, with his 47,000 men, crossed the Euphrates and the Tigris and met Darius at the head of that colossal army near the village of Gaugamela, about eighteen miles northeast of the ruins of Nineveh. Darius put at the front of his line two hundred scythe-armed chariots and fifteen elephants. With these the Persian king hoped to chop up Alexander’s phalanxes, disordering them so they would become easy prey to the charges of Persian cavalry.
As the battle opened, the chariots went rattling across the plain, charging into the phalanxes. But Alexander had appointed light troops to neutralize the chariots. They wounded horses and drivers with missiles. The few chariots reaching the phalanx passed harmlessly through, the spearmen opening their ranks for them; and in the rear they were easily captured. The battle was furious. The pikes of the phalanx gradually gleamed nearer and nearer to Darius; and when the king’s charioteer was struck down by a javelin, Darius jumped from his chariot, mounted a horse and galloped from the field of battle. Soon the Persian army was following its leader—in retreat and in panic. Alexander pursued the fugitives; and, according to Arrian, 300,000 Persians were killed. The fleeing Darius was murdered by men once his allies.
PLANS FOR BABYLON FAIL
Babylon at once surrendered. Alexander determined to make this city the world capital. He initiated several great building programs in Babylon. But his plans to make Babylon a great city once again could not succeed, for this time Alexander was in conflict with Bible prophecy. Through his prophet Isaiah the God of heaven had declared: “Babylon . . . must become as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. She will never be inhabited nor will she reside for generation after generation.” (Isa. 13:19, 20) So Alexander’s plans for rebuilding the Scripturally doomed Babylon collapsed; and after his return to Babylon from further conquests, the carousing Alexander died of a fever, in his thirty-third year of life, in 323 B.C.
What was to become of his empire? Bible prophecy made it clear that “his kingdom will be broken and be divided toward the four winds of the heavens, but not to his posterity.” (Dan. 11:4) As to the symbolic he-goat, God’s angel told Daniel: “The hairy he-goat stands for the king of Greece; and as for the great horn that was between its eyes, it stands for the first king. And that one having been broken, so that there were four that finally stood up instead of it, there are four kingdoms from his nation that will stand up, but not with his power.”—Dan. 8:21, 22.
God’s words cannot fail; and true to prophecy, by the year 301 B.C., the year of the decisive battle of Ipsus, four of Alexander’s generals had established themselves in power. Commenting on this and on God’s decree concerning Babylon, historian Rollin wrote: “Nothing shows more evidently the strength and weight of this invincible curse, than the efforts of the most powerful prince that ever reigned; a prince the most obstinate that ever was, with regard to the carrying on of his projects; a prince, none of whose enterprises had ever miscarried, but who failed in this [rebuilding Babylon], though it did not seem so difficult as the rest. . . . Can any thing be more wonderful, more divine, than a series of prophecies, all of them so clear, so exact, and so circumstantial; prophecies which go so far as to point out that a prince should die without leaving a single successor from among his own family, and that four of his generals, will divide his empire between them?”
The career of Alexander the Great shows with what preciseness Bible prophecy is fulfilled; this, in turn, glorifies the Originator of that prophecy, Jehovah God. Let all those who wish success in what they do pattern their lives in harmony with God’s prophetic Word, the words of which can never fail.