An Event Deserving World Publicity
A NEWS headline most welcome to peace- and freedom-loving peoples of the earth would be news of the downfall of a great, oppressive empire that had held other nations in captivity and subjugation. Especially would this be true if this world power was very cruel, and had even gone so far as to move an entire nation away from its homeland and try to force upon it a pagan, idol-worshiping form of religion. Victory over such an oppressor nation would indeed deserve the widest possible publicity. Just such an event actually happened 2,500 years ago, and was brought forcibly to the attention of the world of that time. So great an upset was it that it altered the course of history and it has exercised profound influence upon the nations and peoples of earth today.*
An unusual fact connected with this historic event is that, seventy-five years before the event occurred in 539 B.C.E., it received advance publicity in the nation that would be oppressed, and in the nation that was to be the oppressor. This is because the captive nation was at that time Jehovah’s chosen people and the oppressor nation was the age-old enemy of God, Babylon. Jeremiah was the prophet God used to give the advance news of the fall of Babylon with vivid descriptiveness. The message was delivered both to Judah and at Babylon in 614 B.C.E., seven years before Jerusalem was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. (Jer. 51:59-64) We shall now discuss this prophecy, which adds enlightening details to that previously given by the prophet Isaiah about Babylon’s fall. It is found in Jeremiah, chapters fifty and fifty-one.
Jehovah God, who is the “One who is dwelling above the circle of the earth, the dwellers in which are as grasshoppers,” and who observes all the events of the earth in their relative importance, stressed the international significance and impact of Babylon’s fall when he said to Babylon through Jeremiah: “Tell it among the nations and publish it. And lift up a signal; publish it. Hide nothing, O men. Say, ‘Babylon has been captured. Bel has been put to shame. Merodach has become terrified. Her images have been put to shame. Her dungy idols have become terrified.’”—Jer. 50:2; Isa. 40:22.
Since Jehovah has it written in his Word and, as one of Jesus’ apostles said, “all Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial,” it is even today something to be given consideration and wide publicity, for it serves as an advance notification and warning of the fall of an oppressive power today and of the way of escape from the consequences of its fall.—2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Cor. 10:11.
Merodach is the Hebrew word for Marduk, Babylon’s chief god in the days of King Nebuchadnezzar and his dynasty. Babylon’s theology claimed that he was the builder of their capital city and their famous temples. Merodach (Marduk, or Bel) appears therefore to be just another symbol for Nimrod, who was a rebel against Jehovah God and who actually built Babylon. (Gen. 10:9, 10) Because of Babylonian victories previously in subjugating the nations and becoming the Third World Power, Merodach had become terrifying to the nations. But now it was his turn to become terrified. He would be shown up to be a weakling, a worthless god, having dumb idols, worthless as dung, to represent him. He would be powerless, a mere false god. Merodach and his associate gods in Babylon would fail the Third World Power and his worshipers therein. Then the fate of these worshipers would be uncertain, for Merodach would lose his dignity and be unable to protect his worshipers from the persecution of their conquerors, who were worshipers of Zoroaster and other gods.
Jehovah reveals who the conquerors would be when he says: “For against her a nation has come up from the north. It is the one that makes her land an object of astonishment, so that there proves to be no one dwelling in her. Both man and domestic animal have taken flight. They have gone away.” (Jer. 50:3) The Medes, who composed most of the troops of the Persian general, Cyrus, were from the north. Babylon’s gods would be completely powerless to block their advance or their strategy. Thus Jehovah decreed the decline of this mighty city, so that it was to become an object of astonishment, a desolation deserted and avoided by man and domestic animal.
But what about Jehovah’s people captive in Babylon when this fall took place? Jeremiah continues: “‘In those days and at that time,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘the sons of Israel, they and the sons of Judah together, will come. They will walk, weeping as they walk, and for Jehovah their God they will seek. To Zion they will keep asking the way, with their faces in that direction, saying, “Come and let us join ourselves to Jehovah in an indefinitely lasting covenant that will not be forgotten.”’”—Jer. 50:4, 5.
When Babylon fell in 539 B.C.E., it was only two years until the seventy years of desolation prophesied previously by Jeremiah would be up. (Jer. 25:11) Therefore Daniel and other faithful worshipers of Jehovah among the Jewish exiles began to pray for Jehovah to fulfill his promise by their early liberation, which did take place when Cyrus issued his decree in the first year of his reign, in 537 B.C.E. Tens of thousands of the captive Jews took advantage of this decree to return to Zion.
It was a long way to Zion, and these released ones would ask the way. They would weep for joy because of Jehovah’s liberation of them, his guidance and his provision for them through the wilderness journey to Jerusalem, and would express their appreciation for his forgiveness of them. Before their captivity they forgot Jehovah and broke his covenant. After their release through divine mercy, they would acknowledge that covenant anew. Their purpose in returning would have no political flavor. Their motive could not be to restore a kingdom, for they would acknowledge subjection to Persia, the nation Jehovah would use as their liberator. Why, then, would they endure the long journey and the hardships? In order to restore true worship by rebuilding the temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem, which Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed seventy years before, in 607 B.C.E. It was on the issue of true worship that their blame for their captivity lay, as Jehovah reminded them:
“A flock of perishing creatures my people has become. Their own shepherds have caused them to wander about. On the mountains they have led them away. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their resting place. All those finding them have eaten them up, and their own adversaries have said, ‘We shall not become guilty, due to the fact that they have sinned against Jehovah the abiding place of righteousness and the hope of their forefathers, Jehovah.’”—Jer. 50:6, 7.
So they had been at fault in that they had followed their kings and priests as leaders in a bad way, away from their resting-place in Jehovah and his pure worship. When the Babylonian conquerors attacked they found the Jews straying and disunited and had acted like wolves, bears and lions in devouring them like sheep. The Babylonians felt no personal guilt at destroying them or acting against them, for they said that, since the Israelites had sinned against Jehovah, they were justified in wreaking vengeance, and took the opportunity to vent their malice to the full. But Jehovah did count the Babylonians guilty when they acted with this unrighteous, malevolent motive against his people. Jehovah speaks encouragingly to his people, promising they will not continue under the hateful yoke forever:
“‘Take your flight out of the midst of Babylon, and go forth even out of the land of the Chaldeans, and become like the leading animals before the flock. For here I am arousing and bringing up against Babylon a congregation of great nations from the land of the north, and they will certainly array themselves against her. From there she will be captured. One’s arrows are like those of a mighty man causing bereavement of children, who does not come back without results. And Chaldea must become a spoil. All those making spoil of her will satisfy themselves,’ is the utterance of Jehovah.”—Jer. 50:8-10.
It would only be after Babylon’s fall that Jehovah’s people could take their flight out of her. This return would have to be after Jehovah’s decree of seventy years of desolation on Judah had been fulfilled. But when Babylon should fall, two years before the seventy years were up, faithful Jews who were in Babylon could begin to prepare to leave and would be so prompt in leaving when the time came that it would be like fleeing, although it would be, not a panicky, but an orderly departure. They would be like the leaders of the goats, trying to be the first ones to get out when the pen is opened. The ones to liberate them would be composed of troops from a number of great nations, all with the one aim of capturing Babylon. The arrows of their famed bowmen would bereave the mother organization, Babylon, of her children. The bows of the Persians would not come back without results. Babylon, the spoiler of nations, had so much spoil that the Persians would be completely satisfied with the booty taken. Jehovah expresses his judgment to these Babylonian spoilers of the kingdom of Judah:
“For you men kept rejoicing, for you men kept exulting when pillaging my own inheritance. For you kept pawing like a heifer in the tender grass, and you kept neighing like stallions. The mother of you men has become very much ashamed. She that gave you birth has been disappointed. Look! She is the least important of the nations, a waterless wilderness and a desert plain. Because of the indignation of Jehovah she will not be inhabited, and she must become a desolate waste in her entirety. As for anyone passing along by Babylon, he will stare in astonishment and whistle on account of all her plagues.”—Jer. 50:11-13.
What a bitter, vicious attitude the Babylonians had when bringing execution upon Judah for its sin against God! It was actually an expression of their hatred for Jehovah and his people. They felt frisky, like a well-fed heifer, when they destroyed the city of Jerusalem and its temple and then took the precious temple vessels and put them in the temple of Babylon’s false god, Marduk. They acted like neighing stallions, brimming with energy. This was not the proper spirit, and was a sin before God. Because of this, the mother city Babylon would come to be ashamed for her children, her citizens or inhabitants. For she would be toppled from her place as mistress of the world and captured. Her proud hopes for her children would be disappointed. And God’s indignation was to be expressed even farther against her until she should become the least important of the nations by becoming a wild, waterless, deserted wasteland. Such would be her desolation that men who knew her past glory would be astonished. They would whistle, as they passed by, for self-assurance, as at a haunted place. The Medes and Persians could not be given the primary credit for Babylon’s crash; it was really because of Jehovah God, who had decreed her fall, using Medo-Persia as his instrument. So he says, as if he were the commander-in-chief of the Medo-Persian army:
“Array yourselves against Babylon on every side, all you who are treading the bow. Shoot at her. Spare no arrow, for it is against Jehovah that she has sinned. Shout a war cry against her on every side. She has given her hand. Her pillars have fallen. Her walls have been torn down. For it is the vengeance of Jehovah. Take your vengeance on her. Just as she has done, do to her. Cut off the sower from Babylon, and the one handling the sickle in the time of harvest. Because of the maltreating sword they will turn each one to his own people, and they will flee each one to his own land.”—Jer. 50:14-16.
Babylon’s sin was great before Jehovah. She destroyed the kingdom of Judah and was the first one to destroy the temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem. Then she went farther in her sin by defiling the holy vessels of the temple in the house of a pagan god and in King Belshazzar’s last feast. (Dan. 1:1, 2; 5:1-4, 22, 23) God was justified in executing vengeance upon her. The prophecy indicates that the executional armies would be men expert in archery, like the Medes and Persians. Resistance by Babylon would be in vain. She would have to give her hand, her power, in surrender. Though the invading bowmen entered by the Euphrates riverbed, it was just the same as if the pillars supporting her and the walls protecting her had fallen.
Even though Babylon was very fruitful, due to her rivers and man-made canals, the productive land was to become a waste. The farmers would be cut off. The sword would be mercilessly applied to her, while those allied with her and supporting her as the Third World Power would leave her to her deserved judgment, turning each one to his own land and people. Those who did profitable business with her would be scattered. But to his own people Jehovah turns with comforting words:
“Israel is a scattered sheep. Lions themselves have done the dispersing. In the first instance the king of Assyria has devoured him, and in this latter instance Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon has gnawed on his bones. Therefore this is what Jehovah of armies, the God of Israel, has said, ‘Here I am turning my attention upon the king of Babylon and upon his land in the same way that I turned my attention upon the king of Assyria. And I will bring Israel back to his pasture ground, and he will certainly graze on Carmel and on Bashan; and in the mountainous region of Ephraim and of Gilead his soul will be satisfied.’”
“‘And in those days and at that time,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘the error of Israel will be searched for, but it will not be; and the sins of Judah, and they will not be found, for I shall forgive those whom I let remain.’”—Jer. 50:17-20.
Here was an expression of Jehovah’s unbreakable love for his people. When the Assyrians conquered and deported the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel it saddened his heart. But Israel had sinned against God. However, Assyria went much too far when it threatened the holy city Zion. On one night Jehovah destroyed 185,000 of the Assyrian army and later avenged himself upon Assyria by enforcing his decree of destruction on its capital city, Nineveh, in 633 B.C.E. (2 Ki. 18:9 to 19:36; Nah. 1:1 to 3:19) However, at that time he left the Israelite exiles in foreign territory.
Babylon then became the leading assailant against the kingdom of Judah. This small kingdom was like the skeleton bones left out of the larger, more numerous people of Israel. King Nebuchadnezzar desired to get the most succulent part of the body of Israel, where the king sat upon “Jehovah’s throne,” and where the temple of Jehovah was located. Nebuchadnezzar worshiped the false god Marduk, whose symbol was the lion. And, like a lion, he destroyed Jerusalem and its temple, crushing them between his teeth as bones of a sheep, to get the sweet marrow out of them. His destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was far more notorious and profane than when Assyria destroyed Israel’s paganized capital Samaria and its temple to the false god Baal. So if Assyria and her capital tasted God’s indignation, Babylon deserved even greater vengeance to be wreaked upon her.
When Babylon fell, this cleared the way for Jehovah to bring his sheep back to their pasture ground in the Promised Land. The places mentioned in this prophecy, namely, Carmel, Bashan, the mountainous region of Ephraim and of Gilead, were in Israel’s one-time territory outside the land of Judah. The mention of these places, therefore, would indicate the restoration of the Israelites of all tribes to their homeland, which actually was true during the Maccabean period, as the Israelites did hold those territories again.
So it was that, at Jehovah’s appointed time of seventy years, he forgave the sins and error of the remaining ones of his chosen people, those who desired to see true worship restored. He blotted out the record of such sins. Therefore, nothing against the Israelites and the Judeans could be found, even though it was diligently searched for. He restored them to Zion and the land of Judah as one united people.
This amazing expression of Jehovah’s love and mercy to his repentant people and his power to deliver and restore them was eminently deserving of the most extensive publicity. It has been made known and has been emphasized by the fact that Babylon today is exactly what Jehovah said it would be, a complete desolation without inhabitant. Jehovah’s witnesses publicize this to millions of people in 194 lands in the earth today, not only as an example of Jehovah’s love for his worshipers and his ability to preserve them, but even more because of what this milestone-like event in man’s history pictures for our day. A continuation of God’s Word through Jeremiah will be considered in the Watchtower’s next issue to lay further groundwork for an understanding of this picture in its fullest clarity for our readers.
For a full discussion of the influence of this event and how it has prophetic significance, see the book “Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules!, published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, Brooklyn, New York (1963).