The Medo-Persian Empire in Prophecy
HISTORICAL developments involving the great powers that dominated large sections of the earth were not all just mere coincidence. There is One who has at times intervened in human affairs, resulting in tremendous changes on the world scene. This One, Jehovah God, by means of his prophets, also foretold long in advance the rise and fall of certain empires.
For us today the unerring fulfillment of Bible prophecies in the past furnishes a solid basis for trusting that prophetic word regarding future events. More importantly, this can serve as a strong encouragement to live in harmony with God’s purpose, confident that he will make the ‘word of his servants come true.’—Isa. 44:26.
The book of Daniel is notable for its many prophecies. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian of the first century C.E., was moved to write: “All these things, as God revealed them to him, he left behind in his writings, so that those who read them and observe how they have come to pass must wonder at Daniel’s having been so honoured by God.”
One of the remarkable prophecies recorded by Daniel concerns the Medo-Persian Empire. In the eighth chapter of his book, Daniel relates a vision in which the Medo-Persian Empire is represented as a ram (Dan. 8:20) We read: “Look! a ram standing before the watercourse, and it had two horns. And the two horns were tall, but the one was taller than the other, and the taller was the one that came up afterward.”—Dan. 8:3.
What does this mean? As is evident from Daniel 8:21, 22, horns represent kings or kingdoms. The text states: “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.”
Accordingly, in the case of Medo-Persia the fact that the ram’s second horn came up afterward and was taller than the other one would be a foretelling that one kingdom, the Persian, would in time gain the ascendancy over the other one (the Median). Did such a thing happen?
Yes, this is confirmed by the facts of history. Originally the Medes held the dominant position. But, then, Cyrus (II), upon ascending the throne of Anshan, united the Persian forces in an attempt to throw off the Median yoke. In 550 B.C.E. the Medes under the command of Astyages (Ishtumegu) and the Persians under Cyrus met in battle. The army of Astyages revolted against him and brought Astyages in fetters to Cyrus. Thereafter Cyrus seized the capital of Media, Ecbatana. From then on Media played a secondary role in the Medo-Persian Empire.
Though the Medes were now in a subservient position, Media and Persia formed a dual world power and, therefore, could be represented by one ram. As Daniel 8:20 explains: “The ram that you saw possessing the two horns stands for the kings of Media and Persia.” Commenting on the dual nature of the empire, Professor Olmstead’s History of the Persian Empire (page 37) says: “The close relationship between Persians and Medes was never forgotten. Plundered Ecbatana remained a favorite royal residence. Medes were honored equally with Persians; they were employed in high office and were chosen to lead Persian armies. Foreigners spoke regularly of the Medes and Persians [just as the Bible generally refers to them jointly].”
Continuing his description of the ram, Daniel states: “I saw the ram making thrusts to the west and to the north and to the south, and no wild beasts kept standing before it, and there was no one doing any delivering out of its hand. And it did according to its will, and it put on great airs.”—Dan. 8:4.
No power could stand before Medo Persia when it was in its heyday. Pushing northward, King Cyrus captured Babylon in 539 B.C.E. His son Cambyses directed a campaign southward, conquering Egypt. Darius I pushed his conquests westward, gaining control of Thrace and Macedonia.
In time, however, Medo-Persia fell before the world power of Greece. This had been foretold in the prophecy of Daniel as follows: “I, for my part, kept on considering, and, look! there was a male of the goats coming from the sunset upon the surface of the whole earth, and it was not touching the earth. And as regards the he-goat, there was a conspicuous horn between its eyes. And it kept coming all the way to the ram possessing the two horns, which I had seen standing before the watercourse; and it came running toward it in its powerful rage. And I saw it coming into close touch with the ram, and it began showing bitterness toward it, and it proceeded to strike down the ram and to break its two horns, and there proved to be no power in the ram to stand before it. So it threw it to the earth and trampled it down, and the ram proved to have no deliverer out of its hand.”—Dan. 8:5-7.
In fulfillment of these words, the world power represented by the ram fell before Alexander the Great, the one represented by the “conspicuous horn.” It is of note that the goat was recognized as a symbol of the Grecian or Greco-Macedonian World Power. The Imperial Bible-Dictionary (Vol. I, p. 664) tells us: “Monuments are still extant in which this symbol occurs, as one of the pilasters of Persepolis, where a goat is depicted with one immense horn on his forehead, and a Persian holding the horn, by which is intended the subjection of Macedon by Persia.” As Daniel had foretold, however, the former domination of Persia over Macedonia was to come to an end. In fulfillment of the prophecy, the Medo-Persian “ram” fell before the Grecian “goat.”
In view of such fulfillments of prophecy, it is wisdom on our part to examine what the Bible says about events still future. Only then can we make sure that our lives harmonize with the prophetic word. This is vital in gaining God’s approval and blessing.—2 Pet. 1:19-21.