Since Nebuchadnezzar had control over Assyria south of the Tigris, I don’t understand why he didn’t rebuild the towns for more protection, but I’m no military genius. Maybe it would have been wasteful to do so or maybe it would have stretched his power to thin.
The world wasn’t populated like it is now, so…
Egypt’s Pride and Desolation
1 In the tenth year, in the tenth month, in the twelfth day of the month, the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
“Tenth year…tenth month…twelfth day of the month” – January 7, 587 B.C.; the sixth date in Ezekiel. This is the first of seven oracles against Egypt, all of which are dated, except one (30:1). They represent divine and prophetic anger at Egypt’s actions (or non-actions) at this time.
2 Son of man, set thy face against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and prophesy against him, and against all Egypt:
3 Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself.
“Great dragon” – or “crocodile”; pictured as being in the Nile.
“Which hath said” – boasts inscribed on Egyptian monuments (such as in Shelley’s “Ozymandias”) had become proverbial.
4 But I will put hooks in thy jaws, and I will cause the fish of thy rivers to stick unto thy scales, and I will bring thee up out of the midst of thy rivers, and all the fish of thy rivers shall stick unto thy scales.
5 And I will leave thee thrown into the wilderness, thee and all the fish of thy rivers: thou shalt fall upon the open fields; thou shalt not be brought together, nor gathered: I have given thee for meat to the beasts of the field and to the fowls of the heaven.
“Meat to the beasts” – particularly frustrating to the pharaoh’s great hopes for an afterlife, as symbolized by the pyramid’s and expressed in the Egyptian “Book of the Dead.”
6 And all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the LORD, because they have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel.
“They have been a staff of reed” – a comparison made earlier (see Is 36:6). Pharaoh-hophra briefly but successfully diverted the Babylonians from laying siege to Jerusalem.
7 When they took hold of thee by thy hand, thou didst break, and rend all their shoulder: and when they leaned upon thee, thou brakest, and madest all their loins to be at a stand.
8 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will bring a sword upon thee, and cut off man and beast out of thee.
9 And the land of Egypt shall be desolate and waste; and they shall know that I am the LORD: because he hath said, The river is mine, and I have made it.
10 Behold, therefore I am against thee, and against thy rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from the tower of Syene even unto the border of Ethiopia.
“Tower” – or “Migdol” which probably refers to a fortified city on the northern border of Egypt.
“Syene” – or “Aswant,” a town in southern Egypt.
“From the tower of Syene” – “From Migdol to Syene” probably indicated all egg, just as “from Dan to Beersheba” meant all Israel.
11 No foot of man shall pass through it, nor foot of beast shall pass through it, neither shall it be inhabited forty years.
“Forty years” – sometimes used to signify a long and difficult period.
12 And I will make the land of Egypt desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate, and her cities among the cities that are laid waste shall be desolate forty years: and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and will disperse them through the countries.
13 Yet thus saith the Lord GOD; At the end of forty years will I gather the Egyptians from the people whither they were scattered:
14 And I will bring again the captivity of Egypt, and will cause them to return into the land of Pathros, into the land of their habitation; and they shall be there a base kingdom.
15 It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them that they shall no more rule over the nations.
16 And it shall be no more the confidence of the house of Israel, which bringeth their iniquity to remembrance, when they shall look after them: but they shall know that I am the Lord GOD.
17 And it came to pass in the seven and twentieth year, in the first month, in the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
The second oracle against Egypt.
“The seven and twentieth…first month…first day of the month” – April 26, 572 B.C.; the seventh date in Ezekiel and the latest date given in the book. Since the remaining dated oracles are in more or less chronological order, the date is mentioned here probably because of the subject matter (Egypt).
18 Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyrus: every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled: yet had he no wages, nor his army, for Tyrus, for the service that he had served against it:
“Caused his army to serve a great service” – Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre for 15 years, from 586 to 571 B.C.
19 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and he shall take her multitude, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army.
20 I have given him the land of Egypt for his labor wherewith he served against it, because they wrought for me, saith the Lord GOD.
21 In that day will I cause the horn of the house of Israel to bud forth, and I will give thee the opening of the mouth in the midst of them; and they shall know that I am the LORD.
“Will I cause the horn…to bud forth” – revive the strength of. The passage is not a Messianic prophecy.
“The opening of the mouth” – Ezekiel’s muteness would be removed, and this word anticipates that of 33:22.
Babylon Captivity: Warfare
A double mud-brick wall surrounded the two parts of the inner city of Babylon. The inner of these walls was 21 feet thick, with towers every 59 feet. After an intervening space of 24 feet, filled with rubble and supporting a military road, Nebuchadnezzar had constructed an outer wall 12 feet thick, with towers every 67 feet.
Eight gates with doors covered in bronze led into the city. Surrounding this heavily fortified area, waters from the Euphrates filled a moat about 150 feet across.
If these defenses were not enough, about a mile and a half beyond this wall an outer triple wall surrounded the part of the city of Babylon that lay east of the Euphrates. This outer defense system had an inner mud-brick wall about 24 feet thick.
About 35 feet beyond it stood a slightly thicker wall of baked brick, against which lay a 10 foot scarp of baked brick that faced another moat filled with Euphrates water.
A review of the warfare of the period might explain why the Hebrew exiles were as well employed and successful as artisans. Demands of the war effort were great.
Nabopolassar of Babylon won independence from Assyria in 626 B.C. While he consolidated his power, the Medes reorganized their army and strengthened their position on Assyria’s northern border.
Then in 615 B.C. the Medes invaded Assyria, enjoying initial successes. At this point the Babylonians and Medes joined hands and cooperated in a three month siege of Nineveh in 612 B.C. and turned the city into heaps of debris. By the end of the year all the main Assyrian towns lay in ruins.
For their part the Medes do not appear to have laid claim to Assyria proper, south and west of the Tigris. They expanded to the east, north, and west. The Babylonians controlled Assyria south of the Tigris but didn’t occupy it or rebuild damaged towns.
Instead they concentrated on the religious and cultural advance of southern Mesopotamia and on the conquest of Syria and Palestine.
Pharaoh Necho II of Egypt went north in 609 B.C. to help the Assyrian Empire to stand against the Babylonians. Killing King Josiah of Judah, who tried to stop him, he saw an opportunity to expand his holdings and took control of Judah, Philistia, and Phoenicia and held the crossing of the Euphrates.
Since nearly all Babylonian trade was with the West, the Babylonians couldn’t tolerate Egyptian control of their gateway to the Mediterranean.
Therefore, after the Babylonians polished off the remnants of the Assyrian Empire in 606 B.C. they annihilated the Egyptian garrison a Carchemish. The whole newly-established Egyptian Empire in Palestine-Syria fell like a house of cards.
As the crown prince, Nebuchadnezzar took Daniel and other hostages from Judah and moved against Egypt. In August word came that his father had died and he rushed back to Babylon to take the throne.
Almost annually thereafter Nebuchadnezzar found it necessary to lead his troops into the rebellious Westland. Sometimes Egypt stirred up trouble there; sometimes inhabitants of the region rebelled with the hope that Egypt would come to their aid.
In 601 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar fought a fierce battle with the Egyptians that nearly exhausted both sides and required major rebuilding of their military establishments. The inconclusive nature of the Babylonian attack encouraged the Judeans and others to seek independence from Babylon.
This resulted in Babylonian’s determination to crush Judean resistance. They first besieged Jerusalem in 598-597 B.C. and deported some of the Jews. The second siege in 588-586 B.C. resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
Egyptians again came to Judean aid during the final siege, forcing the Babylonians to lift the siege temporarily. After destroying Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to mainland Tyre; it took him thirteen years to take the city (585-572 B.C.), which he left in ruins.
After the death of Nebuchadnezzar (562 B.C.), not only was Babylon internally weak but a new threat arose on the northern and eastern border.
Cyrus the Persian rebelled against his Median overlord, took control of the Median Empire, and proceeded to expand it.
He defeated Lydia and moved all the way through Asia Minor to the Aegean. Then he circled back to deal with Babylon. Nabonidus (556-539 B.C.) left the capital for extended periods to refurbish the temples of the moon god Sin in Ur and Haran and established trade connections in Arabia.
His son Belshazzar ran the government in Babylon. Cyrus had to do little fighting to overwhelm the Babylonians. His propaganda machine served him well, and the inhabitants of Babylon looked on him as a deliverer.
The Persian army marched into Babylon on October 12, 539 B.C., and Cyrus himself arrived on October 29th. The Persians used the strategy of diverting the course of the Euphrates, making the water defenses of the city useless.
True to his word, Cyrus kept his army in check, forestalling the usual plunder and destruction. Unlike Nineveh, which had been totally destroyed, Babylon continued prosperous.
The Babylonian army was largely mercenary from Nebuchadnezzar’s day on, and it included Greek mercenaries. Thus he could keep the army in the field for extended periods of time and could easily call them up on an annual basis.
The Babylonians knew all the tactics of the Assyrians well, as well as the kinds of equipment they used, but they do not seem to have fought as fiercely. Nor do they appear to have used so extensively the tactics of terror for which the Assyrians are known.
And of course it is not possible to get the same success from a mercenary army as from a citizen army.
…with so many wars, didn’t they run out of people?