It is important to know that although the Earth belongs to the Lord and the fullness thereof, the World does not. The world’s economic, political, religious, and military affairs are in the hands of Satan. Man, using his free will allowed Satan to rule this world and its systems. But God is merciful and has always provided a way of salvation to the sincere and repentant. Even to the sinner and arrogant, He always presents an opportunity to overcome evil. That is what often happened to Israel each time they lived sinfully and attracted evil to themselves.
Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the lion-nation
One time, way before Daniel saw his visions of the four beasts, Jeremiah had prophesied concerning the coming of a nation whose brutality was likened to that of a lion: “The lion is come up from his thicket, and the destroyer of the Gentiles is on his way; he is gone forth from his place to make thy land desolate; and thy cities shall be laid waste, without an inhabitant” (Jer.4:7).
At the time of Jeremiah there was one great nation which ruled the then world whose national symbol was a lion. That nation was Babylon which had grown to become a mighty empire. The image below is found on the Ishtar gate in Iraq, where the ancient kingdom of Babylon used to be situated.
Jeremiah’s prophecy went further to describe the greatness and swiftness of the armies of the lion-nation, likening them to the swiftness of eagles – “Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as a whirlwind; his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe unto us! For we are spoiled” (Jer.4:13). In his various other prophecies Jeremiah plainly identified the lion-nation to have been Babylon – “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: and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him. And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the LORD, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand” (Jer.27:6-8).
Another prophet, Ezekiel, a contemporary of Jeremiah had also prophesied concerning the coming of Babylon to devour Israel.
Ezekiel’s prophecy also described Babylon with wings of an eagle: “Thus saith the Lord GOD; A great eagle with great wings, longwinged, full of feathers, which had divers colours, came unto Lebanon, and took the highest branch of the cedar.. Say now to the rebellious house, Know ye not what these things mean? tell them, Behold, the king of Babylon is come to Jerusalem, and hath taken the king thereof, and the princes thereof, and led them with him to Babylon” (Eze.17:3,12).
Daniel, who lived at about the same time with Jeremiah and Ezekiel, had a vision which also described Babylon as a lion and with eagle’s wings. It was the same God speaking to all the three men:
4The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.
But what was the plucking off of wings? Well, what would happen to an eagle if its wings were plucked off? It would take away its ability to fly. That would be the end of its pride of flying high above all other birds and animals. And looking at Babylon as a lion, what would happen if the nature (‘heart’) of man was given to a lion? Well, it would lose its voraciousness and become powerless just like mankind. But would such a thing happen to invincible Babylon whose people dwelt safely behind its impregnable walls? History tells us that the Persians finally prevailed and overcame Babylon. How was this possible?
The fulfilment of the visions
Understand that Babylon was situated on a river, the river Euphrates. This river actually passed through the city of Babylon; it entered from one end and exited to the other end. This topography enabled merchant ships to easily move into the city for commercial activities. However, this would be a serious security loophole as invaders would have easy access into the city. To guard against this, apart from the walls which surrounded the city, there were also huge gates of brass that went down to the bottom of the river bed. When closed these gates would seal off the entrance and outlet for Euphrates rivers against any would-be intruder. There were always soldiers tasked with opening and closing the gates. It was thus an impossible task to break into Babylon. When Persians had decided to take on the city, from their high walls the Babylonians laughed and hurled insults at them.
Cyrus worked out a plan. His troops dug out a channel which deviated the waters of Euphrates. The ancient historian Herodotus wrote:
Hereupon the Persians who had been left for the purpose at Babylon by the, river-side, entered the stream, which had now sunk so as to reach about midway up a man’s thigh, and thus got into the town… the Persians came upon them by surprise and so took the city. Owing to the vast size of the place, the inhabitants of the central parts (as the residents at Babylon declare) long after the outer portions of the town were taken, knew nothing of what had chanced, but as they were engaged in a festival, continued dancing and reveling until they learnt about the capture (Livius, 1999).
On that fateful day when Belshazzar organised the impious feast, so drunk were the soldiers manning the gates that they left them open. This was not a coincidence. Isaiah had prophesied about this incidence: “That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers. That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut” (Isa.44:27-28).
Cyrus the Great gave Babylon to be ruled under the leadership of Darius the Mede (Prideaux, 1823). With Babylon out of the way the Persian Empire had established itself as the most powerful empire.
Levius (1999). Capture of Babylon (Herodotus). [Online]. Available from: http://www.livius.org/articles/person/darius-the-great/sources/capture-of-babylon-herodotus/ [Accessed: 30 March 2018].
Prideaux, H (1823). The Old and New Testaments connected : in the history of the Jews and neighbouring nations, from the declensions of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to the time of Christ.[Online]. Available from: https://archive.org/details/oldnewtestaments01prid [ Accessed 30 March , 2018].