Jewish History should send a message to even the dullest of tyrants: Don’t mess with...
Israel, the Apple of God’s Eye!
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Sennacherib ruled the Assyrian Empire (704-681 B.C.), expanding and improving the ancient city of Nineveh located on the East bank of the Tigris River opposite the modern city of Mosul, Iraq. Nineveh had a population of almost 150,000 people, making it the greatest city in the world. Feeling invincible, Sennacherib conquered Egypt and then attacked Jerusalem but God killed 185,000 of his soldiers. He had not learned a lesson from the Egyptian exodus: Don’t mess with Israel because they are the “apple of God’s eye” (Zec. 2:8.)
However, another empire was gathering influence down in the river town of Babylon about 55 miles south of modern Baghdad between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Babylon was ruled by King Nebuchadnezzar II who became a Jewish proselyte after losing his mind for seven years.
Nebuchadnezzar ruled Babylon from 605 to 562 B.C. and he conquered Jerusalem in 597, taking into captivity the craftsmen, smiths, warriors, and intellectuals. Daniel (a young man of purpose, prayer, and prophecy) and Ezekiel were among the captives. Daniel played a major role in Nebuchadnezzar’s administration and Ezekiel was a prophet who compared his friend to Noah and Job!
In 586, Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem again and the captain of his bodyguards ordered that Solomon’s Temple, the royal palace, and all homes in the city of Jerusalem be torched. The surviving inhabitants of the city (a total of about 50,000) were taken captive to Babylon. Jerusalem was totally destroyed! It should be noted that about 100,000 Jews still occupied Judah while Jerusalem’s leaders, intellectuals, and craftsmen were sent into exile for 70 years.
Babylon defeated, destroyed, and demoralized Jerusalem and surrounding cities; but payday was coming for Babylon in a few years.
It was 539 B.C., that mighty Babylon fell to the Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great who diverted the Euphrates River that flowed through the city. Upstream from the city, he channeled the river into a large basin, thereby permitting his army to wade waist deep down the riverbed into the city. The Babylonians could have easily frustrated Cyrus but they were having a drunken party given by King Belshazzar. He and his officers thought that there was no way any army could capture the impregnable city on the Euphrates. That night proved that drinkers are not the best thinkers.
When Cyrus the Persian defeated Babylon, he killed Belshazzar, grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. Cyrus is perhaps most widely known for allowing the exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem to build the Second Temple in 538. Following Babylon’s defeat, Darius the Mede was appointed by Cyrus to rule Babylon as recorded in Daniel 6. The prophet Daniel, past 80 years old, had his lions’ den experience during the rule of Darius.
When Cyrus permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem, he even returned the sacred, golden vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken in his conquest of the city and he helped finance the rebuilding of the Temple! It was finished in 515. Zerubbable led 42,360 Jewish exiles back home; very few out of an estimated one million that then lived in the former Babylonian Empire! What a trek south through 500 miles of desert! But they were going home after 70 years.
Darius the Great ruled Persia from 521-486 and his is son, Xerxes I, ruled from 485-465 and was killed by a bodyguard. Xerxes I is the Bible’s King Ahasuerus who ruled Persia and chose Esther as his queen in 473 B.C., after Queen Vashti refused his command to parade her beauty to a large host of drunken men. She knew that drunks are often skunks, however the king was angry and embarrassed at her refusal. After all, he controlled a world empire yet he could not control his own wife! He didn’t like his buddies and underlings snickering at his impotence. So he chose Esther as his queen, but did not know that she was a Jew.
Haman was a Persian official who hated Jews, especially Queen Esther’s uncle who was a minor government official. Haman devised a plan to kill all the Jews in the empire but when Esther discovered the plan, she risked her life by asking the king’s help without his permission. She bravely said, “If I perish, I perish.” Ahasuerus granted her access and discovered Haman was not a worthy official and had him hanged upon the very gallows that he had built for Esther’s uncle who had angered Haman by refusing to bow to him.
The King’s Jew-killing order had already been sent to all the provinces authorizing the Jews to be slaughtered on a specific day and Persian law did not permit any changes in their laws. However, the king permitted another law that gave information to the Jews so they could defend themselves on their day of slaughter.
So the Jewish nation was saved (again) in 473 B.C. because a Jewish queen had courage, character, and convictions. Jews today celebrate this miraculous deliverance at the Feast of Purim.
Artaxerxes, the son of Ahasuerus, ruled from 465 to 424 B.C. Under his rule, Ezra returned to Jerusalem with exiles in 458. Nehemiah led another group in 445 and succeeded in building walls that protected the Second Temple and the returned Jews who were now home. Artaxerxes provided the timber to build the walls!
The Jews were back in their land faithfully serving the one true God, having constructed the Second Temple and rebuilt the city walls. Meanwhile, the Greeks in Athens had built their Parthenon, a pagan temple to Athena.
Jewish History should send a message to even the dullest of tyrants: Don’t mess with Israel, the apple of God’s eye.