A War Between Gods
IT IS a fact of interest that pagan nations of ancient times, particularly Babylonia, believed that each city had its own tutelary deity, to which its temple was dedicated and its people were devoted.* So when there was a war, it was considered a battle not only between the armies involved but more particularly between gods. The god of the victorious army was looked upon as achieving victory over the god of the defeated army or city. The gods of these nations were worthless idol gods that could actually do nothing. Sacrificing to these idols, the nations were actually making sacrifices to invisible demons, wicked spirits under Satan the Devil, “the god of this system of things.” By means of these gods Satan could keep people in servitude and away from worship of the true God.—Ps. 96:5; 1 Cor. 10:20; 2 Cor. 4:4.
God’s prophet Isaiah told his nation, the Jews, that, because of their wickedness and rebellion, Jehovah had decreed that he would chastise them by allowing them to become captive down in Babylonia, a land full of idol gods. Isaiah also foretold their release from Babylon after a period of discipline. When the time should come for Jehovah to liberate his people, the demons would oppose, and any fight that would ensue to deliver God’s people would be looked upon as a fight between Jehovah, the true God, the God of Israel, and the gods of Babylon, chief of whom was Bel, which name means “Lord.” He was the same as Merodach or Marduk, or he came to be identified with Marduk.
At the time Cyrus overthrew Babylon he did not have knowledge of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning him, calling him by name and foretelling that Jehovah would use him as his instrument in defeating Babylon. Cyrus was a Zoroastrian, but he was superstitious and had a desire to please the gods of the various nations that he conquered. So in his ignorance of the prophecy of Isaiah, which showed the true source of his victory, he may have ascribed his success to the false gods of Babylon, just as it is indicated on the cuneiform document, the Cyrus Cylinder:
The totality of all lands he surveyed . . . inspected. He sought a righteous prince according to his heart’s desire who would grasp his hands. Cyrus, the king of Anshan, whose name he uttered, he proclaimed for lordship over everything. . . . Marduk, the great lord, the protector of his people, looked joyfully upon his pious deeds and his righteous heart. He decreed his march upon his city, Babylon, and caused him to take the road to Babylon. Like a friend and companion he went by his side.*
His widespread troops, whose number like the waters of a river is not known, put on their weapons and advanced at his side. Without encounter and battle he caused him to enter into the midst of Babylon, his city. He saved Babylon from need. . . .*
Cyrus may have reached this conclusion, partly because Nabonidus, the first ruler of Babylonia, who was an enthusiastic religionist, sought to centralize the religion of the kingdom in Babylon. The images and shrines of the various divinities he collected in Babylon, whereas throughout the history of Babylonia each city had its own patron deity. In doing this he may have alienated the Babylonian priesthood. For this reason Cyrus may have been led to think that the god Merodach (Marduk) helped him take Babylon.*
JEHOVAH THE REAL VICTOR OVER BABYLON
However, when Cyrus entered the city and Daniel was able to show him the prophecy of Isaiah written almost two hundred years beforehand, what could Cyrus say? Whom could he correctly acknowledge as giving him the victory?
Furthermore, that Cyrus’ victory was from Jehovah God is shown by the following facts: Babylon and Jerusalem had been age-old enemies from the time of Abraham and King Melchizedek of Salem, which later became Jerusalem. And enmity had existed between Jehovah God and Babylon from the time of the Tower of Babel, shortly after the flood of Noah’s day. The Babylonians greatly rejoiced over their capture of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. and considered their god Marduk as the great victor. They hated Jehovah’s people and certainly did not want to let them go. So it could not be due to the action of any of the false gods of Babylon, but, as Jehovah himself stated, it was his own action in releasing his people from Babylon and empowering them to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, to his glory. This brought glory to his name and defeat to the false gods of Babylon. And if Bel (or, Marduk) was, as the Cyrus Cylinder said, “the protector of his people,” he failed ignominiously in fulfilling this role, for many Babylonians were slain, and all Bel’s subjects in Babylonia came under subjection to the foreign ruler, Cyrus of Persia. Moreover, Babylon never afterward reinstated herself to the position of world domination.
GODS OF BABYLON DISGRACED
Nebo, whose name means “Speaker, Announcer, Prophet,” was another important god of Babylon, once more important than Marduk. He was the god of vegetation and came to be identified with the heavenly planet Mercury. Through Isaiah God prophetically foretold the disgrace that would come upon these gods of Babylon: “Bel has bent down, Nebo is stooping over; their idols have come to be for the wild beasts and for the domestic animals, their loads, pieces of luggage, a burden for the tired animals. They must stoop over; they must each alike bend down; they are simply unable to furnish escape for the burden, but into captivity their own soul must go.”—Isa. 46:1, 2.
Therefore, when Babylon was defeated, Nebo and Bel themselves, “their own soul,” had to go into captivity and their worshipers became subjects of Cyrus. They were really no gods at all, and what a disillusionment and embarrassment it was to the worshipers of Bel and Nebo when even these, the greatest gods of the Babylonians, had to stoop in shameful defeat before the true God, Jehovah. The idols the Babylonians worshiped as gods could not carry themselves, much less their worshipers, to escape from the armies of Cyrus. These lifeless images were for the wild beasts, the lion and the dragon (the sirrush), to carry off into the country, if they could. Or they were loaded onto domestic animals and their dead weight caused these animals to bend down as beasts carrying mere luggage. It was not the usual annual parade for these false gods down Babylon’s Procession Street to the temple of Ishtar, to be admired and praised by their worshipers, but a humiliating flight for safety. Beasts carrying the Babylonian gods in an attempted escape! What a disgrace!
NO GOD COMPARABLE TO JEHOVAH
Jehovah does not permit any image to be made of him, because he is the living God. (Ex. 20:4, 5) He is the One who carries his people in his mighty arms, and not in any hasty or panicky flight. He foretells that he would deliver them, not only from Babylon, but from its good-for-nothing gods Nebo and Bel. Jehovah says to his people:
“Listen to me, O house of Jacob, and all you remaining ones of the house of Israel, you the ones conveyed by me from the belly, the ones carried from the womb. Even to one’s old age I am the same One; and to one’s gray-headedness I myself shall keep bearing up. I myself shall certainly act, that I myself may carry and that I myself may bear up and furnish escape.”—Isa. 46:3, 4.
Jehovah is different from the idol gods. He is not only able to bear himself up, because he is timeless and without beginning or end, consequently never grows old or tired; he is also inexhaustible in energy, able to defend his people, to defeat the enemy, including their gods, and carry his people and bear them up. Even though Israel would be more than a thousand years old from the death of the patriarch Jacob in 1711 B.C.E., Jehovah is everlasting, always at the zenith of his strength and ability to bless them—assurance to them of deliverance from Babylon.—Ps. 90:1, 2; Jas. 1:17.
Jehovah follows a very simple line of reasoning with his people when he says: “To whom will you people liken me or make me equal or compare me that we may resemble each other? There are those who are lavishing out the gold from the purse, and with the scale beam they weigh out the silver. They hire a metalworker, and he makes it into a god. They prostrate themselves, yes, they bow down. They carry it upon the shoulder, they bear it and deposit it in its place that it may stand still. From its standing place it does not move away. One even cries out to it, but it does not answer; out of one’s distress it does not save one.”—Isa. 46:5-7.
So when the Israelites would later come into captivity to Babylon they must not fear the gods that are powerless, but they should turn to Jehovah, with whom no other god can compare. They should remember that he foretold by name the very military leader that would deliver them from Babylon. This would give them courage to endure, awaiting his liberation of them.
NO OTHER GODS CAN CHANGE JEHOVAH’S PURPOSE
Jehovah went on to say to them: “Remember this, that you people may muster up courage. Lay it to heart, you transgressors. Remember the first things of a long time ago, that I am the Divine One [El] and there is no other God [Elohím], nor anyone like me; the One telling from the beginning the finale, and from long ago the things that have not been done; the One saying, ‘My own counsel will stand, and everything that is my delight I shall do’; the One calling from the sunrising a bird of prey, from a distant land the man to execute my counsel. I have even spoken it; I shall also bring it in. I have formed it, I shall also do it.”—Isa. 46:8-11.
When in captivity, the Israelites should remember what Jehovah did for them and for their forefathers in the distant past. He existed before all other gods and he knew from the beginning what the finish of his program would be. No demons or other false gods could block the decreed outcome of it. As far back as his first recorded statement of prophecy, at Genesis 3:15, and since, he told of things that had not yet come to pass. The Israelites had experienced the fulfillment of many of the things that he told them in advance. Jehovah did not need help to determine or execute his program. He did not need counsel or wisdom from anyone. He was not carrying out the counsel of some other god as adviser, or acting under anyone’s influence, but his own counsel, his own purposes, and these have stood and have come to pass, as he declared they would.
We have a record of what Jehovah delights in, in his written Word, and he has done these things in which he delights, regardless of whether it pleased anyone else. He called Cyrus, and what Cyrus did was not the carrying out of his own counsel, but Jehovah’s. Cyrus was not a Judean. He was from the sunrising, from the east, from a land far distant from the land of Judah. He was from Persia, which lay east of Babylon and the Tigris River, even east of Elam and the Persian Gulf. He is spoken of as a bird of prey, and it is interesting that the ensign of Cyrus was a golden eagle, a bird of prey. Jehovah called upon Cyrus to pounce down upon Babylon swiftly, like that bird of prey, the eagle.*
Even as Jehovah had spoken it, he formed the counsel and shaped the circumstances in human affairs to carry out his counsel by means of Cyrus, the symbolic “bird of prey,”* and historical records, sacred and secular, prove it. This exalts Him as being the One who overcame the gods of Babylon and the One responsible for giving Cyrus the strength to overthrow that mighty city.
Now Jehovah addresses himself in a prophetic way to the Babylonians. He knew that they were going to destroy Zion or Jerusalem out of hatred for Jehovah and his people: “Listen to me, you the ones powerful at heart, you the ones far away from righteousness. I have brought near my righteousness. It is not far away, and my own salvation will not be late. And I will give in Zion salvation, to Israel my beauty.”—Isa. 46:12, 13.
It was Jehovah who had determined that his people Israel should go into captivity to Babylon because of their unrighteousness and rebelliousness, but it was also his own counsel that they should in time be saved from Babylon’s power. Viewed from Jehovah’s standpoint of eternal existence, and since a thousand years is as a day with him, salvation from Babylon was not far away. (2 Pet. 3:8) It would come exactly in God’s time. He would not be unreasonable in his punishment of his people and would not allow Zion to lie desolate excessively long. In not too much lapse of time he would give his beauty to Israel, the beauty of being saved by Jehovah from the Babylonians. God would bring near his righteousness, because he would vindicate himself soon. It would be an act of righteousness on his part, for all the defamation brought on his name by the Israelites’ servitude to Babylon would be wiped out by Jehovah’s defeat of all Babylon’s gods.
The Babylonians, who were “powerful at heart,” boastful in their gods Bel and Nebo, should have paid attention to this notice and warning, so that they should not have acted too haughtily and cruelly toward God’s people Israel while they held them in captivity.
In 539 B.C.E., only two years before the prophesied seventy years of desolation were due to be completed, God sent his swiftly flying bird of prey, Cyrus of Persia, to fly against Babylon to execute his divine counsel on it. (Jer. 25:11) But Babylon was a mighty walled city, considered impregnable. Could Babylon’s gods behind her mighty defenses hold out for years and thereby prevent Jehovah from executing his counsel in his foretold time? Would the two years be enough time for Cyrus to bring about Babylon’s fall and, besides that, be able to get around to the business of liberating the Jews?
Jehovah’s word and name were at stake. It would be a war, not merely between Jehovah and Babylon, just for the sake of his people Israel. It was a war between gods. Jehovah would show his supremacy over these idol gods, which were no gods, and bring them down to the dust in disgrace and defeat. It would be a crushing defeat for Satan and his wicked demons, a foretaste of the defeat and destruction of these opposers of God and the complete vindication of Jehovah against all the gods of all the nations. Therefore the fall of Babylon must happen at God’s appointed time. In the next issue of this magazine we shall follow some of the events of the fatal night of Babylon’s fall.
The Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 2, page 441.
See Die Keilinschriften der Achämeniden, by Weissbach, pages 2-5.
See the same, page 41; also Nabonidus and Belshazzar, by R. P. Dougherty, page 176 of 1929 edition.
See The Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 2, page 441.
See Xenophon’s Cyropædia (Education of Cyrus), Book 7, paragraphs 1, 4. Says The Encyclopædia Britannica, eleventh edition, Volume 10, page 454b: “The Persians bore an eagle fixed to the end of a lance, and the sun, as their divinity, was also represented upon their standards, which . . . were guarded with the greatest jealousy by the bravest men of the army.”—See under the heading “Flag.”
In Isaiah 46:11, the Hebrew word for “bird of prey” is ʽa·itʹ, and it corresponds with the word for “eagle” found in the Greek LXX, namely, a·e·tosʹ, as in Lamentations 4:19 and Jeremiah 4:13. The Hebrews called the “bird of prey” by the name ʽa·itʹ because of its rushing upon the prey with screams, as indicated by the Hebrew verb root. (1 Sam. 15:19)—See Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon.
[Picture on page 184]
The Sirrush, “Dragon of Babylon”