I’ve been writing on Isaiah’s prophecy of Cyrus the Great, the Persian emperor who God used to restore the Jews to the Promised Land. In Isaiah chapters 40-48, there are a series of prophecies which would not have been understood in Isaiah’s time (around BC 700) but find remarkable fulfilment in the actual invasion of Cyrus more than 150 years later. In this article I want to look briefly at the wealth of Babylon.
Isaiah’s Amazing Cyrus Prophecy — Cyrus Named — Some 150 years before he rose to power, God through Isaiah named Cyrus as the conqueror of Babylon who would free the Jews from captivity.
Isaiah’s Amazing Cyrus Prophecy — The Context in Isaiah — The deliverance from Babylon is actually the focus of 9 chapters in Isaiah, from 40-48, and thus we should not be surprised other references to Cyrus in these chapters.
Isaiah’s Amazing Cyrus Prophecy — “The Gates Shall Not Be Shut” — Isaiah 44 and 45 prophesied several fascinating details about way Cyrus’ army was able to take Babylon.
Isaiah’s Amazing Cyrus Prophecy — “A Ravenous Bird From The East” — The one who will deliver the Jews from captivity is mentioned as coming from the east and from the north, fulfilled in the Median-Persian invasion. Isaiah spoke of “a ravenous bird” and the battle flag of Cyrus was an eagle with spread wings.
The Treasures of Babylon
3 And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.
This near life-size lion from Babylon is in the British Museum. He’s not yet in my Bible in the British Museum series, so I’ll link this post to that series. I’m not aware that he sheds any particular light on the Bible — but it is fun to stand and look at him and think that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego may have walked past him.
The lion is on loan from the Pergamonmuseum in Berlin. The museum has a reconstruction of the massive Ishtar Gate from Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. If you want to get a sense of just how impressive and wealthy Babylon was before the invasion of Cyrus, you might find the following video quite interesting. But before you watch it, it mentions the inscription on the gate, which reminded me of this Scripture:
28 All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar.
29 At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon.
30 The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?
It seems Nebuchadnezzar may have had a habit of thinking that way, to his cost. But perhaps also the video, near the end, reflects what Nebuchadnezzar learned:
34 And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation:
35 And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?
Babylon was a rich city. Their empire was immense, and they plundered the riches of all the lands they conquered. Nebuchadnezzar had the wealth to build gates like this, as well as the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. His empire was the “head of gold” of Daniel 2.
The Greek historian Herodotus described the temple of Marduk in Babylon as containing, at the time of his visit, a large table, throne, and a sitting figure of Jupiter, all of gold, which he was told was eight hundred talents — a Babylonian talent was approximately 30 kg, so this would be 24,000 kg! He wrote that the Babylonians told him that in the time of Cyrus there was also a figure of a man, 12 cubits high, entirely of gold. There’s no evidence that Cyrus ever robbed temples, so these may not have been touched by him, but there’s little doubt that Babylon was fabulously wealthy.
That wasn’t the case when Isaiah wrote. At that time, Babylon was often in conflict with, and often defeated by, the Assyrians. Tiglath-Pileser (mentioned in II Kings 15-16 and I Chronicles 5) reigned as king of Babylon as well as Assyria. Merodach-Baladan, mentioned in Isaiah 39, had two periods of independent rule in Babylon, but both times was driven out by the Assyrians, and he died in exile. Babylon was never independent for very long during Isaiah’s time, and the Assyrians weren’t known for benevolence and leaving wealth to their vassals.
Isaiah knew that the captivity would be in Babylon (Isaiah 39:5-7), but there was no way, humanly speaking, that he could know that Babylon was going to be incredibly wealthy. Yet, Isaiah prophesied that Cyrus would be given by God immense wealth when he was given victory over Babylon — and so it happened.
The Processional Way to the Ishtar Gate, described on the video, was lined with lions like the one pictured above. The Way was called, “the enemy shall not prevail.” That was true through the Babylonian Empire. But the time would come when the Almighty God gave victory to Cyrus. No doubt the “enemy who DID prevail” walked down that Processional Way at some point during his time in Babylon, as he received “the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places.”
Series Summary: Isaiah’s Amazing Cyrus Prophecy