That’s a brief summary of the Great Empires of Ancient Middle East, before we go back in time and look at kingdoms of Egypt, I would like to look at…
1 Set the trumpet to thy mouth. He shall come as an eagle against the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law.
“Eagle” – or “vulture,” referring to Assyria.
“House of the LORD” – the land of Israel, not just the temple.
2 Israel shall cry unto me, My God, we know thee.
“We…know thee” – but their worship of the Lord was thoroughly corrupted by pagan notions and practices.
3 Israel hath cast off the thing that is good: the enemy shall pursue him.
4 They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not: of their silver and their gold have they made them idols that they may be cut off.
“Set up kings” – after Jeroboam II, five kings ruled over Israel in 13 years, three of whom seized the throne by violence.
5 Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off; mine anger is kindled against them: how long will it be ere they attain to innocency?
“Calf” – Jeroboam I (930-9-9 B.C.) had set up golden calves in Beth-el and Dan, saying, “Behold your gods.”
6 For from Israel was it also: the workman made it; therefore it is not God: but the calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces.
“The workman made it” – Aaron and Jeroboam I had said, “These are thy gods”; but Hosea said, “It is not God.”
7 For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk: the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up.
“Sown…reap” – familiar proverb about the results of doing evil (see Job 4:8; Ps 126:5-6; Prov 11:8; 2 Cor 9:6; Gal 6:7). Israel sowed the wind of idolatry and reaped the whirlwind of Assyria.
8 Israel is swallowed up: now shall they be among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein is no pleasure.
Israel was chosen to be God’s own people, but since she had conformed to the other nations, she lost her special identity and so became worthless to God.
9 For they are gone up to Assyria, a wild ass alone by himself: Ephraim hath hired lovers.
“Ephraim hath hired lovers” – for the “prostitute’s fees” of Assyrian protection. Menahem and Hoshea, kings of Israel, paid tribute to Assyria.
10 Yea, though they have hired among the nations, now will I gather them, and they shall sorrow a little for the burden of the king of princes.
Even thou Israel paid tribute to Assyria that would not buy the king of Assyria. Israel’s real “enemy” was the Lord Himself.
11 Because Ephraim hath made many altars to sin, altars shall be unto him to sin.
12 I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing.
13 They sacrifice flesh for the sacrifices of mine offerings, and eat it; but the LORD accepteth them not; now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins: they shall return to Egypt.
14 For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities: but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof.
Seleucids, Parthians, and Sasanids
Following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C., his top generals vied for control of his empire and carved it up. Greece and neighboring Macedonia—which had absorbed Greek culture and was now exporting it to conquered lands—went to Antigonus.
Egypt fell to Ptolemy, founder of a dynasty that ruled the land of the Nile until the death of Queen Cleopatra three centuries later. The remainder of Alexander’s realm was claimed by Seleucus, who became Persia’s new monarch and ruler of most of the Middle East, with the exception of Egypt.
To do so, he had to battle his Macedonian rivals as well as former Persian subjects who were weary of imperial domination and did not want another king of kings.
Like Alexander, Seleucus invaded India but had to pull back, under pressure from Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the first Indian empire. After agreeing to a truce and ceding to Chandragupta areas north of the Indus River formerly under Persian control, he received 500 war elephants in compensation.
He used those fearsome animals, capable of crushing a man’s head under foot, to defeat his archrival, Antigonus, in 301 and win control of Syria. He then went to conquer Asia Minor. Following his death in 281 B.C., he was defied, common to Macedonians whose kings were cult figures.
The empire established by Seleucus I, founder of the Seleucid dynasty, combined elements of Greek or Hellenistic culture with Persian traditions. In a ceremony staged by Alexander the Great shortly before his death.
Seleucus had wed a Persian noblewoman named Apama while Alexander married the daughter or of Darius III and several of his generals wed other Persian princesses.
Although Seleucus later took other wives or mistresses, as was customary for rulers in much of the ancient world, Apama was the mother of his heir, Antiochus I.
Seleucid kings were thus partly of Persian descent, and they adopted the Persian administrative system by appointing satraps to govern their provinces and collect taxes.
True to their Macedonian heritage, however, they founded cities dominated by Greek-speaking colonists, including Antioch in Syria and Seleucia, their capital on the Tigris River. Greeks formed an elite group, often resented by natives subjected to Greek customs.
King Antiochus IV was devotee of Greek culture who, after quelling an uprising in Jerusalem, forbade Jews to worship Yahweh and erected an altar to the Greek god Zeus in their temple.
Shocked by this sacrilege, rebels led by Judas Maccabeus took Jerusalem in 165 B.C. and tore down that altar, rededicating the temple to Yahweh and keeping up their struggle until their province of Judea won independence.
That Jewish rebellion was just one of many challenges faced by Seleucid rulers as their empire weakened and crumbled. A greater threat came from Rome, whose formidable legions were advancing east around the Mediterranean.
During the 1st century B.C., the Romans completed their conquest of the Mediterranean world by subjugating Egypt, Judea, and Syria—the last bastion of the Seleucids, who resided there after losing control of Iran and Mesopotamia.
Those eastern lands, which had formed the core of the old Persian Empire, fell to the expansive Parthians, whose warriors fanned out on horseback from northern Iran, confounding foes with their dazzling skills as cavalrymen.
Once a province within the Persian and Seleucid Empires, Parthia broke free and became an empire in its own right under King Mithradates I, who defeated and captured the Seleucid ruler Demetrius II in 139 B.C.
Having established his supremacy, he spared Demetrius—who was later freed— and offered him his daughter in marriage. Mithradates also dealt mercifully with the many Greeks who had settled in the lands he ruled and had feared reprisals under this new regime.
The Parthians had little reason now to beware of Greeks, but they had good cause to fear those who had conquered Greece—the far-ranging Romans, who after encircling the Mediterranean began advancing toward the Persian Gulf.
The Parthians were a loosely organized society whose kings had limited authority over local chieftains or clan leaders. They never amassed enough offensive strength to strike against the Roman threat, but when Romans invaded their territory, the Parthians banded together and defended themselves furiously.
At the Battle of Carrhae, waged in northern Mesopotamia in 53 B.C., they scored a stunning victory, all but annihilating the opposing Roman army.
Unfortunately for the Parthians, the Romans never forgot such defeats and went to great lengths to avenge them. On several occasions, Roman legions sacked the Parthian capital, Ctesiphon, burning and looting, slaughtering men in droves, and carrying off thousands of women and children as slaves.
The Parthians refused to surrender to the Romans, but the attacks weakened them and their rulers, who faced insurrections. Among the rebels vying for power were Persians in southern Iran, who hoped to restore the fabled empire founded by Cyrus the Great.
In A.D. 224, a Persian prince named Ardashir toppled the last Parthian monarch and proclaimed himself king of kings.
Rulers of the dynasty he founded, known as the Sasanids for a revered ancestor of Ardashir I, considered themselves heirs to Cyrus the Great and Darius I and sought to recapture past Persian glory.
To do this they chose to bring provinces and their satraps under tighter imperial control, fostering trade, patronizing artists and scholars, rebuilding cities, erecting monuments, and reestablishing Zoroastrianism as the official religion.
They were fortunate to achieve power while Rome was gradually losing strength and posed less of a threat.
Although this new Persian empire was never as large as the old one, the Sasani remained masters of Iran and Mesopotamia for more than four centuries before they were defeated in 651 by Arabs devoted to Islam.
Under Muslim rule, the Persian ideal of governing firmly but equitably and promoting commerce, artistry, and learning endured, inspiring the Abbasid dynasty that made its capital at Baghdad in Mesopotamia—the cradle of civilization the hearth in which empires were forged for more than 3,000 years.
Politically and culturally, imperial Persia had as profound an impact on the Middle East as imperial China did on the Far East and imperial Rome did on Europe.
…Zoroastrianism, the cult of the Persian Empire, because it isn’t mentioned in the Bible, but it was one of the cults of Ancient Man.