Babylon Captivity: During the Exile
The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylonian, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty? (Dan 4:30).
Nebuchadnezzar’s question as he talked with Daniel reveals how he perceived his reign. It reveals his pride in building his magnificent capital, which he developed into one of the greatest cities of the ancient world.
An artist’s reconstruction of Babylon during the reign of the Chaldean King, Nebuchadnezzar
(605-562 B.C.) showing the Ishtar Gate, rooftop gardens and (in the distance)
the ziggurat in honor of Marduk.
Supplementing this question is a long inscription in the British Museum that describes his building activities in Babylon. Confirming indicators are the archaeological discoveries by Robert Koldewey for the German Oriental Society (1899-1917).
The subsequent description of the city is based on Koldewey’s work. In recent decades the Iraqi government has spent millions of dollars in further archaeological investigation and in refurbishing the site.
And Saddam Hussein conducted what were to be annual festivals there in 1987 and 1988. But of course the Gulf War of 1991 interrupted his plans.
The exiles like Daniel saw a new city in Babylon, rebuilt like Berlin after the bombing of the war years. In punishment for Babylonian rebellion, the Assyrian Sennacherib had virtually destroyed the venerable city of Hammurabi in 689 B.C.
Sennacherib’s son and successor Esarhaddon did some rebuilding there to placate the Babylonians. But the city remained in bad shape until Nebuchadnezzar took the throne, so he had an opportunity to build the city of Babylon largely from scratch.
Much larger than Nineveh, Ur, or other ancient Mesopotamian cities, Greater Babylon covered an area of some 2,100 acres; the area within the inner walls (roughly rectangular) was about half that.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Principal Palace in 1970.
Up to 200,000 people could have lived in the more heavily fortified inner area and probably twice that in the larger complex. The circuit of the fortifications was just under ten miles.
Babylon sat astride the Euphrates, with the older part to the east of the river and a new section west of it, linked by a bridge. Iron gratings closed the entrance to the river between the two sectors.
Running north-south through the eastern part of the city lay Procession Street, the main thoroughfare, probably frequently traveled by Daniel, Ezekiel, and other Hebrew exiles who had gained prominence.
Built by Nebuchadnezzar in honor of Marduk, this roadway was paved with imported white limestone and sometimes reached a width of 65 feet. Sidewalks of red breccia bordered it. The city’s major structures opened on this roadway.
These included the palaces of Nebuchadnezzar, the ziggurat, and the great temple of Marduk, the latter two representing the idolatry of the Babylonians – and probably a constant reminder to Hebrew exiles that their temple had been destroyed.
Map of Babylon Inside
About midway along the street stood the great ziggurat or staged tower, often called the Tower of Babel. In its earliest stages it went back to the days of Hammurabi (c. 1800 B.C.). But the Assyrian Esarhaddon began the rebuilding, which was completed by Nebuchadnezzar.
He built the shrine on its uppermost level. Through the centuries robbers removed the brick, leaving only its foundation and the outline of its monumental stairs to the south by the time the archaeologist Koldewey began his work there.
The dimensions of the first level of the ziggurat were about 300 feet on a side. The number of stages and the arrangement of the staircases remain in dispute. The main mass of the ziggurat was of clay, surrounded by a casing of burnt brick about 50 feet thick. A 30 foot wide staircase led up to the first and second stages.
The Esagila temple, south of the ziggurat, served as the great temple to Marduk. Its main chapel measured about 66 by 132 feet. Nebuchadnezzar said that he covered the whole of the interior, including the rafters, with gold.
The year is 701BC. Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, has destroyed nearly every prominent town in the southern kingdom of Judah. Israel lies in ruins. Sennacherib thrusts the power of the Assyrian army toward the all-important city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem houses the God of the Jews. The defeat of Jerusalem would be a large strategic and symbolic victory.
On a pedestal inside the chapel stood a golden image of Marduk. Dozens of other temples were scattered throughout the city. In addition to these, cuneiform texts of the period indicate the presence of almost four hundred altars at gates and crossroads and nearly a thousand shrines scattered throughout the city.
Nebuchadnezzar chose the Southern Palace as his principal palace. This had rooms grouped around five courtyards. The third or middle section was the most important.
Here at the south end of the courtyard stood the great white plastered throne room of Nebuchadnezzar (56 by 170 feet), probably the scene of Belshazzar’s feast and Alexander’s death.
Nebuchadnezzar’s artisans decorated the facade of the throne room (now in Berlin, Germany) with richly ornamented glazed bricks and portrayed animals, pseudo-columns, and floral designs in yellow, white, red, and blue on panels of glazed bricks.
The great Ishtar Gate, probably over several feet high, led into Procession Way on the north. In Nebuchadnezzar’s latest rebuilding of the gate he decorated it with bulls and dragons in glazed brick, the former symbols of the god Adad and the latter of Marduk.
Assyrian warriors armed with slings from the palace of Sennacherib, 7th century B.C.
The animals appeared alternately in yellow and white on a dark blue background. The double gate pierced the two main defense walls of the city.
In the original arrangement, a section of paved road over 200 yards long led into the Ishtar Gate. On either side of the roadway lions (60 on each side), symbols of Ishtar, in molded glazed brick, in red, white, and yellow, lined the walls.
The roadway still contains the paving stones inscribed with Nebuchadnezzar’s dedication.
The excavator Koldewey carried off to Berlin many bricks from the Ishtar Gate and the approach to it, and a diminutive gate with its approach have been recreated in the archaeological museum in Berlin.
Anyone who walks through this part of the museum can imagine himself as Daniel or Ezekiel walking into Babylon to meet Nebuchadnezzar.
Panels of these sacred animals are also on display in the archaeological museums in Baghdad and Istanbul and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. A half-sized reconstruction of the gate has been erected at the entrance to the Babylon excavations.
There are educated guesses, but where and what the famous Hanging Gardens were cannot now be determined.
Nebuchadnezzar, before he got right with You, sounds like a greedy old miser, like the rich fool Jesus talked about:
And he said unto him, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he posseseth.
And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God (Lk 12:15-21).
It’s a cruel world we live in, and it might be okay to keep some money put away for emergencies.
Yet, that depends on how strong their faith is in You and how much they trust You to take care of them. I like having money to buy things, to have fun, and to share with others, but I know that You will always give me what I need when I need it, You always have.
Then there’s the richy rich, like Bill Gates, Oprah and the like who hoard their money instead of helping out those that are really poor. And I thank You that I’m not in such need.
So how far away were the Israelites taken from? What was…
1 And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day of the month that certain of the elders of Israel came to enquire of the LORD, and sat before me.
“Seventh year…fifth month…tenth day of the month” – August 14, 591 B.C., the third day. Since Ezekiel had received many revelations before this the date must emphasize the importance of this chapter. Like chapters 16 and 23, it presents a negative view of Israel’s history.
2 Then came the word of the LORD unto me, saying,
3 Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Are ye come to enquire of me? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be enquired of by you.
Sacred Texts: fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls
4 Wilt thou judge them, son of man, wilt thou judge them? cause them to know the abominations of their fathers:
5 And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day when I chose Israel, and lifted up mine hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up mine hand unto them, saying, I am the LORD your God;
6 In the day that I lifted up mine hand unto them, to bring them forth of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands:
7 Then said I unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
8 But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me: they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt: then I said, I will pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.
9 But I wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, among whom they were, in whose sight I made myself known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt.
10 Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness.
11 And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them.
12 Moreover also I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them.
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A Canaanite Altar:
13 But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my Sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them.
14 But I wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, in whose sight I brought them out.
15 Yet also I lifted up my hand unto them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands;
16 Because they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, but polluted my Sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols.
17 Nevertheless mine eye spared them from destroying them, neither did I make an end of them in the wilderness.
18 But I said unto their children in the wilderness, Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols:
19 I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them;
20 And hallow my Sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God.
Canaanite Gods: Baal
21 Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me: they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; they polluted my Sabbaths: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness.
22 Nevertheless I withdrew mine hand, and wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted in the sight of the heathen, in whose sight I brought them forth.
23 I lifted up mine hand unto them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries;
24 Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my Sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols.
Jehu, King of Israel, is forced to pay tribute.
25 Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live;
26 And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD.
27 Therefore, son of man, speak unto the house of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Yet in this your fathers have blasphemed me, in that they have committed a trespass against me.
28 For when I had brought them into the land, for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to them, then they saw every high hill, and all the thick trees, and they offered there their sacrifices, and there they presented the provocation of their offering: there also they made their sweet savor, and poured out there their drink offerings.
29 Then I said unto them, What is the high place whereunto ye go? And the name thereof is called Bamah unto this day.
30 Wherefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Are ye polluted after the manner of your fathers? and commit ye whoredom after their abominations?
The Babylonian Captivity: Jews in Exile.
31 For when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day: and shall I be enquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be enquired of by you.
32 And that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone.
33 As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you:
34 And I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out.
35 And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face.
36 Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord GOD.
37 And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant:
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38 And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
39 As for you, O house of Israel, thus saith the Lord GOD; Go ye, serve ye everyone his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto me: but pollute ye my holy name no more with your gifts, and with your idols.
40 For in mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord GOD, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the first fruits of your oblations, with all your holy things.
41 I will accept you with your sweet savor, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen.
42 And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to your fathers.
43 And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled; and ye shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed.
Map of world showing Babylon in the center. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
44 And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have wrought with you for my name’s sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.
45 Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
46 Son of man, set thy face toward the south, and drop thy word toward the south, and prophesy against the forest of the south field;
“Toward the south” – that is, toward Judah and Jerusalem, the object of all of Ezekiel’s prophesying in these chapters. Any Babylonian invasion would traverse the Holy Land from north to south.
47 And say to the forest of the south, Hear the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein.
48 And all flesh shall see that I the LORD have kindled it: it shall not be quenched.
49 Then said I, Ah Lord GOD! they say of me, Doth he not speak parables?
…the land like?