The Rejoicing of the Wicked Is Short-lived
WHEN Babylon overthrew God’s representative government in 607 B.C.E., Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon’s king, had powerful incentive for boasting. He felt that he had highly exalted himself. (Isa. 14:13) It is true that Jehovah had called Nebuchadnezzar his servant. (Jer. 25:9) He had allowed him to have power and had used him as an instrument in destroying apostate, rebellious Judah. But Nebuchadnezzar had not done this as a worshiper of Jehovah God. Nebuchadnezzar was a worshiper of the Babylonian god Marduk and Babylon was the age-old enemy of God. So the rejoicing of Babylon sprang from its hatred for Jehovah and his people—from motives originating with the Devil himself. Therefore, such rejoicing could only be short-lived, as a matter of fact, a mere sixty-eight years. For Jehovah foreknew and decreed in advance the length of time that Babylon would be able to hold up its head in rejoicing over his conquered people.—Lam. 1:21; Jer. 29:10.
It is comforting to see how matters worked out. This article, together with the next several of this series, will show how Jehovah brought Babylon’s domination to its early end, reversing the scene of rejoicing.
To assure his people that the rejoicing of their conquerors would be of short duration, God continued to use his prophet Ezekiel. In 593 B.C.E., the twenty-fifth year of Ezekiel’s exile in Babylonia, he had a vision of a new temple of Jehovah and of an adjacent city called Jehovah-shammah, meaning “Jehovah Himself Is There.” (Ezek. 40:1 to 48:35) So a refreshed hope filled the hearts of those who worshiped Jehovah at the prospects of again worshiping the true God Jehovah at a new temple in Jerusalem, the city where he had placed his name.
Two years after this Ezekiel gave a final prophecy concerning Nebuchadnezzar in his use as a servant of Jehovah. God foretold that he would reward Nebuchadnezzar for the service he had performed as Jehovah’s executioner in a twelve-year siege of Tyre, in which he destroyed the land city of Tyre but did not get to take its vast wealth as booty. It was left for Alexander the Great to destroy the island city of Tyre. The reward to Nebuchadnezzar would be the conquest of Egypt with all its wealth for him to plunder. He therefore went on from victory over Tyre to extend the Babylonian Empire over the land of Egypt, in the year 588 B.C.E. However, Babylon now had only forty-nine years left to rejoice.—Ezek. 29:17-20.
BABYLON’S LAST DYNASTY OF SEMITE KINGS
Nebuchadnezzar was now growing old, and eyes began to turn toward a successor for him. By his Median queen Amytis Nebuchadnezzar had his first son, Evil-merodach. He had two sons-in-law, Neriglissar and Nabonidus. The latter was the husband of Nitocris, Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter by his wife of the same name. This marriage produced Belshazzar, who was therefore a grandson of Nebuchadnezzar and a great-grandson of Nabopolassar, the founder of the last dynasty of Semite kings of Babylon.*
Amel-Marduk (Evil-merodach) as the oldest son succeeded Nebuchadnezzar to the throne in 581 B.C.E. He did a kindness to one of the Judean captives, by which kindness he unwittingly carried out Jehovah’s purpose. Second Kings 25:27-30 states: “It came about in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin the king of Judah, in the twelfth month [in 580 B.C.E.], . . . Evil-merodach the king of Babylon, in the year of his becoming king, raised up the head of Jehoiachin the king of Judah out of the house of detention; and he began to speak good things with him, and then put his throne higher than the thrones of the kings that were with him in Babylon. And he took off his prison garments; and he ate bread constantly before him all the days of his life.” Jehoiachin (or Jeconiah) had seven sons in Babylonia, including Shealtiel, whose nominal son Zerubbabel became governor of rebuilt Jerusalem, and through whose line of descent Jesus Christ came.—1 Chron. 3:17-19; Hag. 1:1; 2:23; Ezra 5:1, 2; Matt. 1:12.
Evil-merodach reigned two years and was murdered by his brother-in-law Neriglissar, who reigned for four years, which time he spent mainly in building operations. His underage son Labashi-Marduk, a vicious boy, succeeded him, and was assassinated within nine months. Nabonidus, who had served as governor of Babylon and who had been Nebuchadnezzar’s favorite son-in-law, took the throne and had a fairly glorious reign until Babylon fell in 539 B.C.E. He devoted his time to literature, art and religion. He is reported to have been the son of a priestess of the moon at Harran (Haran), which fact had endeared him to Nebuchadnezzar. Says The Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 2, page 441:
He was an enthusiastic religionist and antiquarian. He built and rebuilt many temples in the principal cities of his kingdom. Nabonidus’ enthusiasm carried him too far, for he attempted to centralize in Babylon the religion of the kingdom. In doing this he alienated the priesthood, and even aroused their active opposition. For throughout the history of Babylonia each city had its own patron deity, to which its temple was dedicated and its people devoted. The images and shrines of these various divinities were collected to Babylon. This act, with others of similar offense to the priests, paved the way for his downfall before a mightier power.
Nabonidus set up a second capital for Babylonia at the oasis of Tema in Arabia. In the third year of his reign he made Belshazzar coregent. While Nabonidus was absent from Babylon and down south in Tema, Belshazzar officiated in Babylon as second ruler of the land. Belshazzar was also very religious, a thing required by the Babylonians of their kings. He reverenced the Babylonian gods greatly, but insulted and blasphemed Jehovah, rejoicing over the supposed victory of his gods in the fact that the Jews were in captivity to Babylon. (Dan. 5:1-4) He built sanctuaries, making offerings of gold and silver and sacrificial animals. There are six cuneiform texts that have been discovered that run from the fifth year to the thirteenth year of the reign of his father Nabonidus that prove this fact. Belshazzar even paid the Babylonian religious tithe. He was a devotee of the gods.*
BABYLON’S TERM AS WORLD POWER TO BE CUT SHORT
Nabonidus’ third year may be the year referred to in Daniel 7:1, which calls Belshazzar “the king of Babylon” and says: “In the first year of Belshazzar the king of Babylon, Daniel himself beheld a dream and visions of his head upon his bed.” In his prophetic dream Daniel saw that the Babylonian World Power would not last. The dream pictured the successive world powers as wild beasts. The first beast, a lion that had the wings of an eagle, pictured the Babylonian Empire, with its dynasty of kings from Nebuchadnezzar to Belshazzar. The second beast, which was like a bear that was raised up on one side and was given the command: “Get up, eat much flesh,” pictured the Medo-Persian Empire, with its line of rulers from Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Persian down through Darius III the Persian.*
In another vision, described at Daniel, chapter 8, ‘in the third year of Belshazzar the king,’ Daniel saw a ram from which “there was no one doing any delivering.” He was told that this ram stood for the kings of Media and Persia. So by this vision God foretold that the Babylonian World Power, the Third World Power of history, was to fall before the Fourth World Power, the empire of the Medes and Persians.—Dan. 8:3, 4, 20.
Thus the stage was set. For, after Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon had a brief and tempestuous history of rulership that extended only as far as the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, falling to Medo-Persia in 539 B.C.E. So, although Babylon felt highly exalted over the downfall of Judah, with much rejoicing, yet this rejoicing turned out to be very short-lived, for the One who sets the times and seasons and who “is doing according to his own will among the army of the heavens and the inhabitants of the earth” had decreed a cutting off of Babylon’s domination.—Dan. 4:35.
COMFORT FOR MANKIND
Likewise today, when wickedness is rampant in the earth and even the existence of mankind is threatened, and those who stand for the kingdom of God and who proclaim it are persecuted, we can be assured that the rejoicing of such wicked oppressors will have but a very short life. Now, in the day when the greater Babylon’s false religious teachings have increased wickedness and violence, God’s Word tells us that it is a sure sign that they are about to be cut down. Jesus himself said, in recounting the many world events of our time that seem to be a triumph for wickedness: “This generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur,” that is, until wickedness is destroyed and the kingdom of the “Son of man” will exercise full sway over the earth, to the blessing of all humankind. (Matt. 24:30, 34; Ps. 92:7) This is the ruler that Daniel saw in his dream, who was given “rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him. . . . an indefinitely lasting rulership that will not pass away.’—Dan. 7:14.
Nabonidus and Belshazzar, by R. P. Dougherty, page 79.
See Nabonidus and Belshazzar, chapter VIII, entitled “Belshazzar’s Devotion to Babylonian Deities.”
For an explanation see “Your Will Be Done on Earth,” published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.