The end of the Assyrian era will also include the Babylonians. The Babylonians were the scientists and artists that Assyria “stole” from and Babylon came to power because of the weakening of Assyria, but never attained her strength, but did succeed in conquering Judah. Put simply, Assyria got too large. Assyria’s decline begins with their defeat in Judah, and Babylon recovers and begins to take advantage of that decline.
Babylon became great under a king named Nabopalasar. The city became a rich city, called “golden Babylon” and it was very unique, no city like it. Nimrod built the original city called “Bab El” meaning the “city of God” but a tower was built and the people were scattered because of the “tongues” incident in Gen 11. Thereafter, the city was known as “Babel” meaning “city of confusion.” It was always under the Assyrian yoke until Nabopalasar threw it off.
His first act was to make Babylon a city that was unbeatable. Sennacharib destroyed it so he could attack Judah (a picture of Russia attacking America before it invades Israel) because he could not leave such a strong city in his region. It was rebuilt by a son of Sennacharib, and King Manasseh was carried captive there to show him how great the city was. Nabopalasar built it around and over the river Euphrates and the river made the land very rich. You couldn’t starve them out because they could grow their own food within the walls, and they had plenty of fresh water. The walls were so thick that you could drive six chariots side by side on top of it, and turn around.
The book of Daniel describes the fall of the city. The Elamites, Medes and Persians had defeated Babylon’s armies outside the city. The people inside didn’t care and “partied.” So, the enemy outside diverted the Euphrates onto an old river bed and the water level dropped under the wall, and they got into the city. Nebuchadnezzar’s son and grandson were ruling at the time. Following this, we go into the time of the Medes and Persians. This was a massive empire, but we are not going to deal with them much because their battles didn’t deal much with the Judeans.
The Greek era follows the Medo-Persian era, and by this time warfare has been revolutionized again. Great machines were used. Assyria ushered in a new era, but the difference between the Assyrians and the Greeks was like the difference between World War I and World War II. Warfare was becoming more sophisticated and needed a corps of engineers to keep up with the new innovations. It was a bad day for a fortress when these machines and innovations came against it.
Spiritually, this again teaches that the warfare that we experienced as a new believer will not be the warfare that we engage in as we grow and mature. The weapons formed against us will become more sophisticated and deadly, and if we don’t improve our weapons and fortifications, it will be sad day for us in a battle. You are either moving forward or you will be going backward (Jer 7.24). We have all heard about the wars between the Maccabees and the Greeks. This is where Chanukah comes from. When Alexander died, he divided his kingdom among his four generals. Two of them we are going to deal with because it affects Israel. One general named Ptolemy was given ruler-ship over Egypt, and another general named Seleucus was given Syria. That put Israel in the middle. Many of the Ptolemies and the Seleucid kings were bad to Israel, but the worst by far is a king called Antiochus Epiphanes IV, a Seleucid king from Damascus, and a picture of the false messiah.
Now, we are going to spend some time talking about the warfare with Antiochus because concepts drawn from it will affect our spiritual warfare.
All Jews are commanded to “sanctify (set apart) the great name of the Lord.” In Lev 18.5 it says that “you shall keep my statutes (chukim) and my judgments (mishpatim), by which a man may live if he does them.” The rabbis believed that you could transgress any commandment to save your life, except for idolatry, sexual immorality and murder. He should choose death rather than transgress.
When does this apply? When a non-Jew has his own personal pleasure in mind (like working on the Sabbath), then transgress. But, if he has the intention to only make him transgress the commandment, if it happens privately (not in the presence of 10 other Jews), then let him transgress. But, if he forces him to transgress in public, then he should face death and not transgress (p 61, History of the Jewish People, Second Temple Period, Mesorah Publications).
Sanctification of the name of God is the primary aim of this piece of “halachah.” Temple purity and the integrity of the priesthood was maintained. When Antiochus took power, the Hellenist (Greek influenced) priests had a sympathetic ear to their views. They managed to take over in virtually all spiritual areas. Bribes were offered to Antiochus to depose the legal High Priest, and also authorize a “gymnasium” for the youth of Jerusalem. They also wanted the people to be considered honorary citizens of Antioch, the capital of Syria. This was done, the gym was built near the Temple, and pagan Greek customs were observed.
This caused neglect of the true worship of God and assimilation to western concepts was rampant, causing a great turmoil in Israel. It was a struggle between the dominant culture of the Greeks and those who wanted to follow the Torah. Spiritually, this is exactly what is going on today, so we will gain some important spiritual warfare concepts out of this conflict.
In 169 BC, Jason, who bribed his way to the high priest position, and Hellenized his name from the Hebrew Yeshua, is a picture of the false prophet. He joined with Antiochus and went to Jerusalem and killed 40,000 people, with another 40,000 taken captive. Antiochus entered the Temple, took what he wanted, entered the Holy Place and removed the holy vessels (altar of incense, Menorah) and the curtains. Antiochus issues a decree, mainly directed to Israel, that in order to unify the different religious groups in his empire, he wanted everyone to embrace the dominant Greek religion and creed.
To disobey meant death. The Temple service was stopped, and in its place, altars would be set up where hogs and other unclean animals would be sacrificed. Then he commanded that the Temple should be desecrated and converted into a pagan temple. All festivals, Sabbaths, New Moons, dietary laws, circumcision, purity laws and the use of God’s name was singled out for prohibition. All copies of the Torah and other scrolls were to be burned, and anyone found in possession would be executed. To profess one was a Jew was punishable by death.
Declaring that this was the god of the Temple, a statue of Zeus with the face of Antiochus on it was erected on the altar of Incense. This is called the “Sikutz Somem” or the “abomination (idol) of desolation.” This was done on the 15th of Kislev, 168 BC. On the 25th of Kislev, hogs were slaughtered on the main altar and continued daily. This would become the first day of Chanukah. He even urinated in the Holy of Holies.
In a small town of Modi’in near Jerusalem, they tried to make the townspeople offer a sacrifice (a pig). Mattiyahu, and aged priest was offered a big reward, titles and privileges if he offered the pig. He publically declared his determination to remain faithful to the Torah and the religion of his forefathers and refused. This priestly, called the Hasmoneans under Judah “Maccabee” (the hammer) rose up in a successful revolt after three and a half years of fighting.
The Greeks didn’t like each other either. Spartans hated the Athenians, Corinthians hated the Thebeans and so on. So the Seleucids hated the Ptolemies in Egypt. The key to understanding the book of Acts is to understand assimilation, and here is why. Rome had adopted the Greek culture and this was called “Hellenization.” From the time of Alexander, Jews from the west of the Jordan, Samaria, Judea and Galilee were confronted by it. In the Galilee, the Greeks had 10 cities called the “Decapolis” and these centers were centers of Hellenism. Young children saw their theatres, education, gymnasiums and athletics and wanted to be like them. It was a major attraction, like today’s sports. The country was split, some wanted to go to the Greeks, others wanted to maintain the Jewish traditions and religion of their fathers.
By the time of the first century, three Jewish-Hellenistic cultures have developed. In Judea, the Hellenists were anti-Torah. In Alexandria, Egypt, they were Torah observant, but affected by the dominant Greek culture. In Greece and Asia Minor, they were Torah observant but they differ from the Alexandrians. Paul would go to these people. One of the major conflicts in the first century was between the Orthodox, or traditional, Jews and the Hellenistic Jews They approached the Torah differently. There was great fear among Jewish parents that they would lose their children to this.
We see this conflict throughout the book of Acts, especially in Acts 6.1-15. This conflict directly led to the death of Stephen, a Hellenistic Jew who was in conflict with the traditional Jews. In Part 20, we will pick up here and discuss the Maccabean wars, the aftermath and how we can apply what we will learn from this to our own spiritual warfare. They made a decision to live for the Lord and give up Hellenism. They even went to the wilderness in order to follow the Lord.
To be a Maccabean warrior, you must separate and go out and be a minority. Its no fun in the wilderness. There are no hayrides, ice cream socials, Christmas pageants and tea parties out there. So, we will pick up here in Part 20.