It is natural for God’s people to praise Him for His greatness and mercies upon them. Indeed, God is a loving and kind Heavenly Father to us. But one would not expect words of praise to flow from the lips of those who do not know God. How can non-believers testify of the Lord’s power and grace? How can they praise God, whom they do not even acknowledge? We may find it hard to understand this anomaly. Interestingly, the Bible records the testimony of a heathen monarch – Nebuchadnezzar – who gave glory to the Almighty God.
The king’s words of praise are found in Daniel 4: 1-3: “Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. How great are His signs! and how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation” (Dan. 4:1-3).
As we consider the above text, some questions come to mind. Who was King Nebuchadnezzar? Why was he reputed to be one of the greatest and most powerful kings of the ancient near East? What led him, a Gentile king, to utter words of praise to Jehovah, the God of the Israelites? These are questions which we hope to answer in our series of articles over the next few weeks.
The name – Nebuchadnezzar – is familiar to many, even in secular history. As a young student, I remember my history teacher telling us about the military exploits of this famous Babylonian king.
Nebuchadnezzar was the eldest son of Nabopolassar who led a rebellion against Assyria and established the Babylonian empire. Nebuchadnezzar succeeded the throne in 605 BC. He reigned for 43 years from 605 – 562 BC.
“The prophecies of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, and the last chapters of Kings and Chronicles centered about Nebuchednezzar’s life, and he stands preeminent, along with the Pharaohs of the oppression and the exodus, among the foes of the kingdom of God. The documents which have been discovered in Babylon and elsewhere within the last 75 years have added much to our knowledge of this monarch, and have in general confirmed the Biblical accounts concerning him” (International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia).
o Military Exploits
Known for his vast military conquests, Nebuchadnezzar united the Babylonian and Median empires by marrying Amytis, the daughter of Cyaxares, King of the Medes.
Even as a young prince, Nebuchadnezzar assisted his father in the conquest of the surrounding nations. When he ascended the throne, he continued with his military campaigns.
Nebuchadnezzar was the king who was best known for his conquest of Judah and the deportation of many prominent Jews to Babylon, amongst whom were Daniel and his three friends (Dan 1: 1-2; Jer 27: 19; 40: 1).
He also led several expeditions against Jerusalem during the reigns of Jehoaiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah. He successfully besieged, captured and destroyed the city, carrying all three kings captive to Babylon. In addition to these wars, he carried a long siege against Tyre which fell after thirteen years in 585 BC.
In his book, Christian theologian George Rawlinson elaborates on the king’s achievements: “Modern research has shown that Nebuchadnezzar was the greatest monarch that Babylon, or perhaps the East generally ever produced. He must have possessed an enormous command of human labor; nine-tenths of Babylon itself, and nineteen-twentieths of all the other ruins, … are composed of bricks stamped with his name. He appears to have built or restored almost every city and temple in the whole country. His inscriptions give an elaborate account of the immense works which he constructed in and about Babylon itself, abundantly illustrating the boast, ‘Is not this great Babylon which I have built?’” (Historical Illustrations of the Old Testament).
In one of his lectures at the Far Eastern Bible College, the late Dr Arthur Steele shared with us a fascinating experience during his visit to the ruins of Babylon – he actually handled one of the abovementioned inscribed bricks attributed to the famous heathen king!
Despite his vast military exploits and achievements, many believe that Nebuchadnezzar’s most outstanding work was “The Hanging Gardens of Babylon” – a remarkable engineering feat with ascending terraces of tiered gardens. It is believed that the king built it as a gift for his wife, Queen Amytis who missed the green hills and valleys of her homeland in Media.
It must be noted that though the Gardens is reputed to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, its existence is disputed amongst historians. “Some scholars claim the gardens were actually at Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire, some stick with the ancient writers and await archaeology to provide positive proof, and still others believe they are merely a figment of the ancient imagination. Archaeology at Babylon itself and ancient Babylonian texts are silent on the matter, but ancient writers describe the gardens as if they were at Nebuchadnezzar’s capital and still in existence in Hellenistic times” (https://www.ancient.eu/Hanging_Gardens_of_Babylon/). (… to be continued)