The Present Truth : March 4, 1897
Boast as they will of their freedom and independence, men in love slavery, and would rather be in bondage than be free. This is demonstrated by facts.
The God of the universe has made a proclamation of freedom to all mankind; He has even given liberty to all; yet but few will take advantage of it. The experience of ancient Israel is but the experience of the human heart. Twice the Lord made it very plain to Abraham that his seed should be free, —once when He said that his servant Eliezer should not be his heir, and again when He told him that the son of a bondwoman could not be heir.
Later He delivered Israel from the bondage of Egypt, that they might enjoy freedom, even the freedom of obedience to the perfect law of liberty, but they murmured, and “in their hearts turned back again into Egypt, saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us.” Acts 7.39, 40
Forty years later God rolled away from them the reproach of Egypt, yet they afterward desired to be like the heathen round them, by having a king, who, as they were assured, would make them slaves. And so it proved; for they not only learned the ways of the heathen, but “overpassed” them. “The Lord God of their fathers sent to them by His messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because He had compassion on His people, and on His dwelling-place; but mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people till there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36.15, 16) and He fulfilled His threat to carry them away beyond Babylon. Amos 5.25-27; Acts 7.43
Slaves of Sin
This Babylonian captivity was only the visible expression of the bondage in which the people had already voluntarily placed themselves. They had flattered themselves that they were free, while they were “the servants of corruption; for of whom a man is overcome of the same is he brought in bondage.” 2 Peter 2.19. “Whosoever comitteth sin is the bondservant of sin.” John 8.34. Physical slavery is a small matter compared with soul-bondage, and but for the latter, the former never could have been known.
The carrying of Israel to the city of Babylon was strikingly fitting. It was not an accident that they were taken there rather than anywhere else. Babylon—Babel—means confusion, but confusion because of self-exaltation and pride; “for where envying and strife is, them is confusion and every evil work.” James 3.16. The origin of the name Babylon was on this wise: —
The Builders of Babel
“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one language and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. And they said to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel, because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth.” Genesis 11.1-9
Those people had the idea that they could build a city so great and a tower so high that they could defy the judgments of God. They really thought themselves greater than God. The same idea possessed Lucifer, of whom we read: —
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground which didst weaken the nations! Or thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of he clouds; I will be like the Most High.” Isaiah 14.12-14
It will be clearly seen that the spirit that was in Lucifer was identical with that which was in the builders of Babel, and the reason or this is that it was Satan himself—Lucifer fallen—who prompted hat work. He is “the prince of this world” (John 14.30), “the spirit hat now worketh in the children of disobedience.” Ephesians 2.2. Now let is go back to the beginning of the chapter from which the preceding paragraph was quoted, and see the relation of fallen Lucifer to Babylon, noting in passing that the thirteenth chapter of Isaiah tells of the destruction to come upon Babylon.
The Prince of This World
That proud city shall be utterly destroyed, —
“For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel and set them in their own land; and the strangers shall be joined them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob. And the people shall take them, and bring them to their place; and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the Lord for servants and handmaids; and they shall take them captive whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors. And it shall come to pass in the day that the Lord shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from thy hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve, that thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! The golden city ceased! The Lord hath broken the staff of the wicked, and the sceptre of the rulers. He who smote the people in wrath with a continual stroke, he that ruled the nations in anger persecuted, and none hindereth. The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet, they break forth into singing. Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us. Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at they coming; it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it has raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us? Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols; the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.” Isaiah 1-11
Then follows the direct address by the Lord, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning,” etc., as previously quoted, stating that his fall is because of his self-exaltation, continuing thus: —
“Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit: They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider the saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; that made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners? All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lay in glory every one in his own house. But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcass trodden under feet. Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, and slain thy people; the seed of evil¬ doers shall never be renowned.” Verses 15-20
The Divine Purpose – The Destruction of the Oppressor
So much of direct address to this wonderful tyrant. Then follows he continuation of the narrative concerning him: —
“Prepare slaughter for his children for the iniquity of their fathers; that they do not rise, nor possess the land, nor fill the face of the world with cities. For I will rise up against them, saith the Lord of hosts, and cut off from Babylon the name, and remnant, and son, and nephew, saith the Lord. I will also make it a possession for the bittern, and pools of water; and I will sweep it with the besom of destruction, saith the Lord of hosts. The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely, as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand; that I will break the Assyrians in My land, and upon My mountains tread him under foot; then shall his yoke depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders.” Verses 21-25.
And now come the striking words, summing up the whole matter: —
“THIS IS THE PURPOSE UPON THE WHOLE EARTH; AND THIS IS THE HAND THAT STRETCHED OUT UPON ALL THE NATIONS. For the Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and His hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?” Verses 26, 27
The Pride of Earthly Dominion
The reader cannot have failed to notice that the complete and final deliverance of all Israel is coincident with the utter destruction of the king of Babylon; and further that this king of Babylon is on, who rules over all the earth; his destruction gives the whole earth rest. It must also have been noted that this king of Babylon is also addressed as Lucifer, the one who thought to dispute the dominion of the world with God. The fact is, therefore, that whoever was that nominal, visible ruler of Babylon; Satan was its real king. This is evident also from the fact that Babylon was a heathen kingdom and “the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils and not to God.” 1 Corinthians 10.20. He is “the god of this world.” That spirit of self-exaltation is radically opposed to the Spirit of God whose meekness and gentleness constitute His greatness; it is that spirit of antichrist “who opposeth and exalteth himself above al: that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” 2 Thessalonians 2.4 This spirit was pre-eminently characteristic of Babylon, except in the brief space when Nebuchadnezzar came to his senses. In his pride he said, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for that house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?” Daniel 4.30. Belshazzar used the vessels of the house of God, and drank wine out of them, together with his wives and his concubines, “and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass of iron, of wood, and of stone” (Daniel 5.3, 4), thus boasting that the gods which he had made were greater than the God of Israel. Of Babylon it was said, “Thou hast trusted in thy wickedness; thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me.” Isaiah 47.10
What Deliverance from Babylon Is
It was this same spirit that actuated the Jewish people. When they insisted on having a king, that they might be like the heathen round them, they rejected God, because they thought they could manage things better themselves. “Hath a nation changed their gods which are yet no gods? But My people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord. For My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” Jeremiah 2.11-13. “Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness? Wherefore say My people, We are lords; we will come no more unto Thee?” Verse 31. Therefore when the children of Israel were taken to Babylon, that city of pride and boasting, it was hut a striking and visible manifestation of the condition in which they had long been. They were carried to Babylon because they did not keep the Sabbath, as we read in Jeremiah 7.27, and 2 Chronicles 36.20, 21. We have already learned that Sabbath-keeping is resting in God; it means the perfect recognition of Him as supreme and rightful ruler. Therefore we must understand that the complete deliverance from Babylon is the deliverance from the bondage of self, to absolute trust in God, and obedience to Him.
The Seventy Years Fulfilled
Just as God had named a definite time when He would deliver His people from Egypt, so He named the exact time of the captivity of Israel in the city of Babylon. “For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon, I will visit you, and perform My good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon Me, and ye shall go and pray unto Me, and I will hearken m to you. And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord; and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.” Jeremiah 29.10-14
Exactly as in the first instance, so in the second, everything came to pass according to the Word of God. The captivity began in B.C. 606, and sixty-eight years later, in B.C. 538 the city of Babylon fell into the hands of the Medes and Persians. See Dan v. Of that time we read, “In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans; in the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes.” Daniel 9.1-3. Here was at least one man seeking God with his whole heart. We do not know if there were others who sought the Lord as Daniel did, there were certainly not many, but God nevertheless fulfilled His part to the letter. Two years after Daniel’s prayer, in the year B.C. 536 just seventy years after the beginning of Israel’s captivity in the city of Babylon, Cyrus, king of Persia, issued a proclamation which is thus recorded: —
“Now in the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and He hath charged me to build Him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all His people? His God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” Ezra 1.1-4
The number of those who went back to Jerusalem as the result of this proclamation is set down as “forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore, beside their servants and their maids, whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty and seven; and there were among them two hundred singing men and singing women.” “So the priests and the Levites, and some of the people, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims, dwelt in their cities, and all Israel in their cities.” Ezra 2.64, 65, 70
The Lesson Still Unlearned
Not all the people went back to Jerusalem, but all might have gone. If all Israel had learned the lesson designed by the captivity, the long-deferred fulfillment of the promise might speedily have taken place; for up to the time of the beginning of the captivity the only definite line of prophecy was the period of seventy years. But just as the people were really in Babylonian captivity, that is, the bondage of pride and self-confidence before the carrying away by Nebuchadnezzar, even so they remained in the same captivity after the close of the seventy years. God foresaw that this would be the case, and so toward the close of that period He gave Daniel a vision, in which another time was fixed.
Of this great prophetic period and the events to which it brings us—the final call to come out of Babylon—we shall study next week.