by John R Ecob DD
And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant; and the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son’s son, until the very time of his land come (Jeremiah 27:6-7).
Why did God choose the evil, idolatrous King Nebuchadnezzar to be His servant? God gave him power over all nations in his day and even over the beasts of the field!
Nebuchadnezzar was born into the family of Nabopolassar the king of Babylon which was a subject nation in the Assyrian Empire.
After the death of Assurbanipal king of Assyria in 626BC, Nabopolassar revolted against Assyria and formed an alliance with Cyaxares king of the Medes. Amytis, the daughter of Cyaxares, was married to Nebuchadnezzar to cement the relationship between the Medes and the Babylonians.
Youthful Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonian army in the attack on Nineveh in 612BC and after the death of his father Nabopolassar in 606BC, Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon from Jerusalem to be crowned King of Babylon in 605BC.
In Nebuchadnezzar’s day the world was ripe for judgment. The ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel had been carried away to Assyria and the southern kingdom of Judah had become apostate following the ways of the heathen nations around them.
But it was not only Judah that was deserving of judgment. The Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon, the Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites Edomites, Arabians, Elamites and Egyptians had all reached a stage where there was no remedy and God required an instrument of judgment. Nebuchadnezzar was chosen and became God’s servant to accomplish the task.
Jeremiah was told of God’s choice of Nebuchadnezzar and it was recorded in Jeremiah chapter 25.
Humanly speaking, Nebuchadnezzar appeared as a very successful king and great warrior who conquered all nations to become the undisputed ruler of the known world. But the truth is that it was God who caused all those nations to fall before the Babylonian army and every victory fulfilled prophecy. Nebuchadnezzar was no more than the servant of the most High God and the downfall of all Nebuchadnezzar’s enemies were foretold by God.
One hundred years before Nebuchadnezzar, the Assyrian king, Sennacherib boasted that he had conquered many nations and their gods could not deliver them and the Lord gave Isaiah a message for Sennacherib. God reminded him that the victories he had over many nations were only because He had made Sennacherib’s enemies too weak to resist and Sennacherib was also a servant of Jehovah God to judge those nations and their gods. The Lord said:
Hast thou not heard long ago, how I have done it; and of ancient times, that I have formed it? now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest be to lay waste defenced cities into ruinous heaps. Therefore their inhabitants were of small power, they were dismayed and confounded: they were as the grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the housetops, and as corn blasted before it be grown up (Isaiah 37:26-27).
Sennacherib was only a servant of the Living God and when he refused to give God the glory, 185,000 of his mighty men perished at Jerusalem in one night! Then 100 years later, his capital city Nineveh was destroyed by another of God’s servants, Nebuchadnezzar.
The Judgment of Nineveh 612BC Fulfilled the Prophecy of Nahum
The prophet Nahum prophesied about 100 years beforehand that Nineveh would be destroyed. Great detail is given in Nahum’s prophecy about the fall of the capital city of Assyria indicating it would be flooded (Nahum 2:8), the palace would be burned (Nahum 2:6) and the Queen would be captured (Nahum 2:7). Even the lions kept for hunting were put to the sword (Nahum 2:13). The reason for Nineveh’s fall was her whoredoms and witchcraft. (Nahum 3:4).
Nebuchadnezzar was God’s servant fulfilling this prophecy.
The Defeat of Pharaoh-necho at Carchemish – Jeremiah 46:1-12
After the destruction of Nineveh in 612BC there was a contest for the territories that had been ruled by Assyria. Pharaoh-necho King of Egypt brought a great army north to Carchemish which was located on the Euphrates River in Syria. He passed through Judah on the coastal road in 610BC and King Josiah went out to fight with him at Megiddo and died when he was shot by the archers.
Nebuchadnezzar also sought to occupy territory previously occupied by the Assyrians and took his army to Carchemish where a great battle was fought in the 4th year of Jehoikim (606BC)(Jeremiah 46:2). This defeat of Pharaoh-necho was prophesied by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 46:1-12) and Nebuchadnezzar was God’s servant.
Pharaoh-necho fled, from Carchemish followed by Nebuchadnezzar all the way to the border of Egypt. Just then, Nebuchadnezzar had news of his father’s death and returned to Babylon to be crowned king in 605BC.
While returning from the Egyptian border about 606BC, Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and Jehoiakim swore allegiance to him. Daniel and other princes of the King’s seed were taken to Babylon at this time – probably as hostages.
Jeremiah also prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy all of Egypt (Jeremiah 46:13-26) but this occurred much later – in 570BC. An Egyptian record states that the Babylonians army went all the way to the Ethiopian border.
The Judgment of Tyre 586BC – Ezekiel Chapters 26 to 28
The city of Tyre was located on the coast of what we call Lebanon. It was a great trading city served by Phoenician ships. Commodities from all the known world were traded in the markets at Tyre. Metals were brought from Britain by the “ships of Tarshish”. Ezekiel lists the many trading partners in chapter 27 of his prophecy.
Ezekiel chapter 28 describes Tyre as an exceedingly wicked city and the headquarters of Satan. The King of Tyre was possessed by Satan and was a high priest of pagan religion.
Three hundred years beforehand, Jezebel, the daughter of the King of the Zidon, a sister city of Tyre, had married Ahab the king of Israel and brought with her 850 priests of Baal and Ashtaroth. In Nebuchadnezzar’s day the king of Tyre was the high priest of these gods and was actually possessed by Satan as described in Ezekiel chapter 28:11-19.
Early in 586BC Ezekiel prophesied the destruction of Tyre. Nebuchadnezzar had begun a siege of Tyre in the 7th year of his reign according to Josephus, and besieged it for 13 years. Finally in 586BC, the same year that he destroyed Jerusalem, the Babylonians broke through the walls of the coastal city of Tyre only to find that all the treasures of Tyre had been moved to an island one kilometer off shore.
The final destruction of the island city of Tyre was fulfilled in 332BC by Alexander the Great who scrapped the stones of the coastal city into the ocean to make a causeway to the island thus fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel.
But Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled the first part of the prophecy and because he carried out the will of God without receiving the spoils of Tyre, God gave him the land of Egypt with all its wealth as wages for his soldiers. Ezekiel wrote:
Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar 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: Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar 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. 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 (Ezekiel 29: 18-20).
This prophecy was made in the year before Tyre fell to Nebuchadnezzar yet God promised to compensate him for the cost of the long siege. Nebuchadnezzar had been the servant of Jehovah God and God paid his wages bill.
Judgment of Judah 586BC
Following the victory over the coastal city of Tyre in 586BC the Babylonian army completed the destruction of Jerusalem which had also been besieged for over a year.
This destruction was foretold by Isaiah (Isaiah 39:6-7); Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:9-11) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 23:22-31). Three times Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem (606, 597 and 586BC) and finally he destroyed the city and Temple taking many people captive to Babylon.
Jeremiah prophesied in the land and Ezekiel prophesied in Babylon at this time but the message was the same; Nebuchadnezzar would come and destroy Jerusalem for her persistent idolatry and wickedness. Nebuchadnezzar was thus God’s servant to execute judgment.
Judgment on “All the Nations”
Judah was not alone in receiving judgment from God. In Jeremiah chapter 25 we have a list of “all the nations” that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy. Jeremiah was told to take the “wine cup” of the fury of the Lord and to cause ”all the nations to whom I send thee to drink it” (Jeremiah 25:15). The nations were:
- Jerusalem and the cities of Judah
- Pharaoh king of Egypt.
- All the mingled people.
- The kings of the land of Uz.
- The Philistines.
- Edom, Moab and Ammon.
- Dedan, Tema and Buz and all the kings of Arabia.
- All the kings of Zimri, Elam and the Medes.
Detailed prophecies of the judgment of these nations are given by Jeremiah in chapters 43:8-13; and in chapters 46 to 49. All were to be destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar acting as the servant of Jehovah the God of Israel.
The Desolation of Egypt – Jeremiah 46:13-26; Ezekiel Chapters 30 to 32
By 570BC, after 35 years of wars, and years spent building the great city of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar had carried out all but one judgment: the judgment of Egypt. He had pursued Pharaoh-necho to his border in 606BC but did not enter the land of Egypt. Pharaoh-hophra now ruled Egypt in 570BC and he had a powerful army; Amasis was his General.
Nebuchadnezzar had tasted of the military might of Egypt at Carchemish in 606BC and he may have been reluctant to invade the land of Egypt where the flat country would favour the chariots of Pharaoh-hophra. But if he was to reign supreme and be the King of kings over the whole world then Egypt must be conquered.
After all, Daniel had interpreted his dream saying that he was the “head of gold” and that “wheresoever the children of men dwell” God “hath made thee ruler over them all”. If Daniel’s God was the only true God then He would give him the land of Egypt.
In 570BC Nebuchadnezzar had another dream. This time it was of a great tree.
The “watchers” in heaven cried, “Hew down the tree!” but leave the stump in the earth for 7 years.
Again Daniel was called to interpret the dream and he indicated that the tree in the dream represented Nebuchadnezzar and that he would be driven out from his kingly throne to live like a beast for seven years after which he would be restored to his throne. Daniel urged Nebuchadnezzar to turn from his sins and obtain mercy from God.
But Nebuchadnezzar had still one mission to complete before he could say that he was the king over the whole earth. He must conquer Egypt.
After all, hadn’t Ezekiel prophesied that God had given him all the land of Egypt as payment for the service he rendered against Tyre? And hadn’t God told Ezekiel that He had broken the arm of Pharaoh-hophra so that he could not resist him? (Ezekiel 30:21).
News was filtering back from Egypt that Pharaoh-hophra was having a civil war with his general Amasis and the land of Egypt was in turmoil. Now was the time to sweep through the land of Egypt and reap all the spoils of that ancient land. Thus, for the next 12 months, Nebuchadnezzar took his army to Egypt and from north to south he desolated the land with little resistance from the fragmented Egyptian forces. God gave him the wages for his army for the service they rendered at Tyre.
At the end of 12 months (Daniel 4:29) Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon as the King of kings over the whole world.
One day, as Nebuchadnezzar walked in his palace, he proudly boasted that it was he who had built great Babylon for the “honour of my majesty”. He failed to give God the glory though he knew that it was God whom he had served. It was God who gave him the victory over all the nations. It was God who broke Pharaoh-hophra’s arm that he could not resist the Babylonian invasion of Egypt. Yet he boasted:
Is not this great Babylon, that I have built … by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty? (Daniel 4:30).
That same hour Nebuchadnezzar was struck down with insanity and was driven out to live like a wild beast for seven years and when seven years were fulfilled, he said:
I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: 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? (Daniel 4:34-35).
At that moment Nebuchadnezzar’s reason returned and he was restored to his throne a different man; a true servant of the LORD – not to destroy other nations but to glorify the God of heaven. He stated:
At the same time my reason returned unto me; … and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase (Daniel 4:36-37).
God had used one of the vilest men in history to be his servant in order to carry out His judgment on evil nations but when Nebuchadnezzar humbled himself before God the grace of God reached him and he became a true servant of the Living God just as Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of Christians, was struck down on the Damascus road and became an Apostle of Jesus Christ. God can change the vilest sinner who turns in true repentance to Jesus Christ.
We should also realize that God uses evil men as instruments to carry out His will but if they do not give God the glory for their success they themselves will come under the judgment of God.
One of the vilest men in the history of the human race was Adolf Hitler. Untold millions of lives were lost in a war that devasted Europe from 1939 to 1945. Six million Jews were mercilessly hunted down and perished in the gas chambers and we wonder why God allowed it.
Bible prophecy, again and again, foretold the return of Jews to the land of Israel in the last days before Jesus Christ returns, but the Jews were determined to settle in eastern Europe.
When Eliezer Ben Yehuda arrived in Jerusalem in 1881 to begin work on a Hebrew Dictionary he was opposed by the Jewish establishment who wanted to continue using the mixed Yiddish language; they even stoned him on his way to work.
In the Soviet Union, Jews were persecuted and when the USSR collapsed in 1992 a million Jews returned to the land. God used the persecution of an evil communist system to fulfill His will. Russian Jews constitute one of the largest political groups in Israel today.
It may appear as though evil men are flourishing but they are being used of God as His servants to fulfill His Word. When they are finished they themselves will become the objects of Divine judgment unless they are like Nebuchadnezzar who said,
I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase (Daniel 4:37).