How the Ancient Kingdom of Lydia Affects Us Today
YOU may never have heard of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, so it may surprise you to learn that a discovery made there changed the way the world does business. Bible readers may also be surprised to learn that a Lydian invention sheds light on a puzzling Bible prophecy. What did Lydians discover? Before answering, it will be interesting to learn something about the life and times of this almost forgotten empire.
The kings of Lydia ruled from their capital, Sardis, in the western part of what was then called Asia Minor but is now called Turkey. Lydia’s last king, Croesus, amassed fabulous wealth, but then about 546 B.C.E., he lost his empire to Cyrus the Great of Persia—the very same Cyrus who conquered the Babylonian Empire a few years later.
Lydia’s innovative businessmen are said to have been the first to use coins. Gold and silver had long been used as money, but because of the irregular size of gold bars and rings, people had to weigh the money each time they made a transaction. In Israel, for example, God’s prophet Jeremiah bought some land and wrote: “I began to weigh out to him the money, seven shekels and ten silver pieces.”—Jeremiah 32:9.
In Lydia, contemporaries of Jeremiah discovered something to simplify trade—the use of coins the standard weight of which was guaranteed by an official stamp on each coin. Lydia’s first coins were made of a natural mixture of gold and silver called electrum. When Croesus became king, he replaced them with silver coins and gold coins that were almost pure. Lydians invented a bimetallic coinage system in which 12 coins of a low denomination equaled one of a more valuable metal. But the system was threatened by counterfeit coins of gold mixed with inferior metals. Merchants needed an easy way to test the purity of gold.
Lydians discovered that a type of local black stone called Lydian stone would solve their problem. When a coin is rubbed on this smooth, slightly abrasive stone, it makes a mark. When the color of the mark is compared with the color of marks made by sample needles of known gold content, the proportion of gold in the coin is revealed. It was this discovery, the touchstone test, that made reliable coinage possible. How does knowing about touchstones help us to understand the Bible?
Figurative Touchstones in the Bible
As the testing of gold with a touchstone became a common practice among traders, the word for “touchstone” came to mean a method of testing. In Greek, the language in which part of the Bible was written, the word was also applied to the torment of men being tested with torture.
Because jailers were the ones who tormented prisoners, the word derived from “touchstone” was also applied to jailers. Thus, the Bible records Jesus’ illustration in which an ungrateful slave was handed over to “the jailers,” or in some translations, “the tormentors.” (Matthew 18:34; American Standard Version, Darby, King James Version) Concerning this text, The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia comments: “Probably the imprisonment itself was regarded as ‘torment’ (as it doubtless was), and the ‘tormentors’ need mean nothing more than jailers.” This helps explain an intriguing Bible text.
A Riddle Solved
Sincere Bible readers have long been puzzled about Satan’s destiny. The Bible says: “The Devil . . . was hurled into the lake of fire and sulphur, where both the wild beast and the false prophet already were; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation 20:10) Surely, for Jehovah to consign someone to everlasting life in torment runs counter to God’s love and justice. (Jeremiah 7:31) In addition, the Bible presents everlasting life as a gift, not as a punishment. (Romans 6:23) Clearly, then, Revelation 20:10 is written in symbolic language. The wild beast and the lake of fire are figurative. (Revelation 13:2; 20:14) Is the torment also figurative? What could this expression possibly mean?
As we have seen, the Greek word for “torment” is derived from the word for “touchstone” and may refer to the torment of imprisonment. Thus, Satan’s eternal torment may refer to his being forever locked away in the securest of prisons—death itself.
Lydia’s touchstone test helps us to understand something else about Satan’s eternal “torment” that harmonizes with God’s love. In some languages, a “touchstone” is a norm by which to test things. For example, in English, “touchstone” means “a test or criterion for determining the quality or genuineness of a thing.” Thus, Satan’s eternal “torment” suggests that his judgment will serve as an everlasting touchstone that could be used should any rebellion ever arise against Jehovah in the future. Never again will a challenge to Jehovah’s rulership need to be tested for an extended time to prove the challenger wrong.
Understanding why traders everywhere adopted Lydia’s touchstone test and understanding the figurative expressions the practice gave rise to shed light on what will happen to Satan. His fate will forever serve as the touchstone of judgment that will make it unnecessary for God ever again to tolerate rebellion.—Romans 8:20.
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Satan’s symbolic torment suggests that his judgment will forever serve as a touchstone
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Ruins at ancient Sardis
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In ancient times, scales were used to weigh money
E. Strouhal/Werner Forman/Art Resource, NY
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The touchstone test has survived into modern times
Coins: Courtesy Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.; touchstone: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
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Electrum coin: Courtesy Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.