Do you know the one of the most popular places in Britain for a day’s outing with the family? No, it is not the hair-raising rollercoasters at Alton Towers. Nor is it the waxworks of Madame Tussauds, or Chessington Zoo. It is the Tower of London. Somehow this ancient stone monument, resplendent with moats and dungeons, draws the crowds, year after year.
We have a fascination with castles. We love to imagine what it was like to live in a world of fine ladies and boar hunts and blazing fires and to shiver over the marks scratched by men without hope on prison walls. It gives us an opportunity to peer through a window onto a world of laughing, weeping, breathing men that passed out of existence long ago. We step back into an age before computers and fast cars, to ponder the essentials of human life: sunshine, fresh food, sweet air—and death.
Now, you may not collect antiques. Indeed, it is quite possible you have an ultra-modern house with all the latest gadgets and abstract art. Even so, it is quite possible you have in your possession something much older than anything in the Tower of London, and something just as fascinating. That is the Bible.
Altogether about 50 men were involved in writing the Bible, covering a period of nearly 3,000 years. Just like rooms in a castle, each of them opens a window on to his age, describing customs and kingdoms and people that have long since passed away. A city man called Abraham goes off to live in a tent. The king of Assyria boasts against the God of Israel, and bites the dust. A fisherman from Galilee leaves his nets and becomes a fisher of men. But note: in every case, it is not just history that the writers record. It is how men reacted to the call of God, whether they loved or hated Him, and how their characters were hammered out on the anvil of their experiences.
This makes the Bible utterly different from every other object of antiquity. It claims to be the book of God, giving His point of view on human affairs. It declares man’s origin; it outlines God’s plan for the world, and it describes how men and women can escape for ever the treadmill of time and find eternal happiness.
The Bible is a demanding book, claiming our lives, and our obedience to this great Being who calls the world His footstool and moulds the history of nations. Yet it promises fantastic rewards.
Ah, but you may well be saying to yourself, ‘How do I know it is true? How can I be sure those people were not just heroes of folk tales passed down from father to son, and growing larger than life in the telling? How can I prove it really is a book from God and not just the thoughts of wise and intelligent men? To give over my life to a God I cannot see, is asking a lot. I want to be sure of the facts!’
Your questions are reasonable, and deserve a careful reply.
That is precisely the idea behind this booklet. What we want to do is to show that the Bible is speaking the truth. We are going to show that its facts can be checked against history. We will see that the handing down of the message was in written form, and the data transmitted without loss. And, most convincing of all, we shall find that predictions made by Bible writers came true, so remarkably, against all odds, that it must be what it claims to be, the work of God. In short, we hope to show that the Bible on your bookshelf is not only genuine, but alive. It resonates with an authority that challenges men and women to listen, not only to the past, but to what is yet to be.
THE BIBLE AS HISTORY
If you have the chance to look at a map of the Middle East, you will notice alongside the River Euphrates, in the heart of Iraq, a place called Babylon. A visit to the site, however, might give you a surprise. Babylon is no modern oil city, with air-conditioned hospitals, minarets and Cadillacs. It is right out in the desert and consists of nothing more dramatic than scattered mounds in an arid landscape. It would be hard to imagine that you were standing in what was once an enormous metropolis, the hub of an empire that dominated the earth.
In fact, before 1900 nobody even knew where Babylon was. It was known to have existed. Indeed, the Bible has a lot to say about the wealth and power of the city and its kings. There were a few references by classical historians like Herodotus, Ctesias and Strabo, who were frequently suspected of exaggerating. But there was no way to check the accuracy of the Biblical record.
Then in the wave of excavation mania that gripped Europe round the turn of the 20th century, the German archaeologist Robert Koldewey began to dig into the mounds alongside the Euphrates.
Similar mounds or ‘tels’ are common in the Middle East, and were known to represent the natural silting over of ruined cities of antiquity. Few sites had such an extensive array of them as Babylon. The whole area covers six square miles, bisected by the ancient riverbed. In 15 patient years, the scientific team uncovered the remains of a truly magnificent capital, a vast complex of fortified walls, brick-built houses, temples, canals and skyscraper ziggurats.
Most important, they also discovered priceless libraries of documents. These were permanent records on baked clay letter-tiles that served the Babylonians instead of writing paper. Here were also inscriptions on public monuments and stones. From these unique archives it has been possible to build up an accurate picture of the everyday life of the Babylonians, and particularly of the achievements of her kings. So, in a remarkable way, the Bible’s account of Babylon has been shown to be historically true.
THE FALL OF JERUSALEM
Let us compare, for example, the account in the Bible of the siege of Jerusalem with the records of the same event in Babylon. In the Bible books of Kings, Chronicles, and Jeremiah, we have three separate accounts of how Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, marched his army across the desert to the land of Israel. He came once to remove King Jehoiakim, who had stopped paying the tax he owed. He came again to deal with his replacement, Jehoiachin, whom he carried off in chains to Babylon. The next king, Zedekiah, served him as a vassal for nine years, and then rebelled. This time Nebuchadnezzar had had enough. He resolved there would be no more trouble from these treacherous Jews. He besieged Jerusalem for two and a half years, and when the city fell, he threw down its walls and burnt it with fire. Most of the population he deported bodily to Babylon, where they could be kept under his thumb.
This is how Jeremiah describes the fall of the city:
“In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month–that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon–Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard, who served the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the LORD, and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down all the walls around Jerusalem. And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive some of the poorest of the people and the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the artisans.” (Jeremiah 52:12-15).
Now, it happens that one of the inscriptions discovered in Babylon describes the first coming of Nebuchadnezzar, to take away King Jehoiakim. It reads:
“In the seventh year, the month of Kislev, the king of Akkad (an ancient name for Babylon) mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti land and encamped against the city of Judah, and on the second day of the month of Adar he seized the city, and captured the king. He appointed there a king of his own choice, received its heavy tribute and sent them to Babylon”.
More amazing still, Koldewey came across a set of receipts for daily rations of oil issued to political prisoners in Babylon. Three of them mentioned by name Jehoiachin the son of the king of Judah.
More recently, evidence has been uncovered in Jerusalem itself of the violent overthrow of the city. During the 1960s, the British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon with a team of helpers cut a trench deep into the side of the hill on which ancient Jerusalem was built. The trench reached bed rock, upon which the foundations of the original city were clearly visible.
Working backwards up to the present-day surface, she could identify the layers of successive rebuilding on the site, like coatings on an aniseed ball. Each layer could be dated accurately by pottery fragments. The Babylonian overthrow of the city wall in the 6th century BC was plain – a cascade of rubble and stones.
Finally, Israeli excavations since 1975, now open to public view, have revealed layers of ash at the same level, proof of the burning of the city recorded by Jeremiah.
But what can history tell us about Babylon itself? The Bible describes Babylon as the handiwork of Nebuchadnezzar. He was very proud of this vast and prosperous city, bustling with international trade. Daniel, a Jewish prophet who was amongst those taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, quotes the king as saying:
“Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty? (Daniel 4:30).
The clay tablets and monuments have confirmed that the planning and erection of the city was indeed the work of the king. Here is a typical inscription from one of his public works. It shows Daniel was correct in portraying him as a great egotist:
“A great wall which like a mountain cannot be moved I made of mortar and brick . . . the foundation upon the bosom of the abyss I placed down deeply . . . its top I raised mountain high”.
THE WRITING ON THE WALL
Eventually Babylon was conquered by the Medes and Persians in 539 BC. The details of its last days, recorded by Bible writers, have been verified from history. In his fifth chapter, the prophet Daniel describes the last night of the Babylonian Empire. Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon, was having a party. He decided to entertain his guests by fetching from his stores the holy cups and bowls captured from the temple of Jerusalem two generations earlier. Then he and his wives made fun of the God of Israel by using them to drink toasts to the gods of Babylon.
It was the night of the writing on the wall. Daniel was hastily summoned to interpret a collection of strange words which had appeared upon the plaster. The king promised:
“…if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom”. (Daniel 5:16).
Daniel proceeded to identify the message. The king’s time was up. He had been weighed in the balances of the God he had mocked and found wanting. His kingdom was finished, and would be given to the Medes and Persians. With dramatic irony the chapter concludes with the death of Belshazzar and the surrender of the city:
“That very night Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, was killed”. (Daniel 5:30)
Now, here is an interesting point. For years it had puzzled the experts why Daniel was offered third place in the kingdom as a prize for success in translating the writing on the wall. If Belshazzar was king, he ought to have been able to give him the right-hand position, second only to himself. However, inscriptions discovered at Haran in 1956 have revealed that the real ruler of the kingdom was Belshazzar’s father, Nabonidus. Because Nabonidus was not very keen on Babylon’s gods, he spent most of his time away from the capital. So, he appointed his son Belshazzar as a regent to rule in his place. Because Belshazzar himself was second in command, he could only offer Daniel the third place in the kingdom!
To summarise then, we have taken a few examples from the Old Testament to show that the Bible’s facts are supported by archaeology. Similar cases, equally impressive, could be added from the New Testament. From the evidence, we can truly say that the more we learn about history, the more accurate the Bible proves to be. One by one the objections of the critics have been silenced as new evidence has come to light. The Bible is not myth and legend; it is living history.
THE ACCURACY OF THE TEXT
One of the aspects of our subject that really worries many people is the possibility that the text of the Bible that we have today has lost truth in transmission. After all, until the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, all the books in the world were written by hand. When books wore out, they could only be replaced by somebody copying them out afresh. Imagine sitting down to copy a book as long as the Bible! You would think that over the centuries innumerable mistakes must have crept into the text. This would apply particularly to books written in Hebrew, which is all dots and tiny strokes of different thickness.
We need to take a look at the people who had responsibility for this formidable task, and the methods they used to safeguard the reliability of the manuscripts. The New Testament books need not concern us very much, because there are so many copies of them in existence that it is easy to check one against another and to spot mistakes. In any case, the oldest copies go back to the third and fourth centuries AD. This is less than 200 years after the originals were written by the apostles themselves. In the John Rylands Library in Manchester there is even a tiny fragment of the gospel of John, which has been dated by experts at the first half of the 2nd century. The preface to the Revised Standard Version by its translation committee says that: “the evidence for the text of the books of the New Testament is better than for any other ancient book, both in the number of extant manuscripts and the nearness of date of some of these manuscripts to the date when the book was originally written.”
The Hebrew Old Testament, on the other hand, goes back, in parts, for 3,000 years. How has this stood up to repeated copying?
The Jews were the most intensely religious nation in history, and their faith was based firmly on the writings of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms. The Scriptures have always been absolutely sacred to them. The task of preserving the accuracy of the record of God’s words was entrusted to the priests and rabbis, and regarded as tremendously important.
Here are some of the rules for copyists laid down in the Talmud, the guide to the Jewish law:
- Every skin (synagogue rolls were written on parchment, the prepared skin of a lamb) must contain an equal number of columns.
- The length of each column must not extend over less than 48 or more than 60 lines; and the breadth must consist of 30 letters.
- The ink should be black, neither red, green nor any other colour, and be prepared according to a definite recipe.
- An authentic copy must be the exemplar (master copy), from which the transcriber ought not in the least to deviate. No word or letter, not even a yod (the smallest letter in the alphabet) must be written from memory, the scribe not having looked at the codex before him.
- Between every consonant the space of a hair or thread must intervene, between every new section, the breadth of nine consonants.
- The copyist had to sit in full Jewish national costume as he wrote.
- At the end of each section the number of letters was totted up and checked against the number noted in the master copy, to ensure nothing had been left out or written twice by mistake.
EVIDENCE FROM THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
In March 1947 the opportunity arose to test the efficiency of the copyists, through an amazing accident. A young Bedouin shepherd, Muhammed ed Dhib, was guarding his goats in the rocky hills near the north end of the Dead Sea. Idly curious, he threw a stone into a small hole in the cliffs above him. There was a crash of breaking pottery.
Now, you would hardly expect to find man-made earthen vessels out there in a cave in the wilderness. At first, he was frightened. Later, he came back with helpers and entered the cave. They found a store of ancient Hebrew manuscripts, the story of which has been going round the world ever since. The Dead Sea Scrolls, as they have become known, belonged to a group of ultra-religious Jews who had set up a commune with very strict rules, out in the wilderness of Judea.
The site was first occupied in 135 BC, and finally abandoned in 68 AD. In that year the Roman armies, relentlessly sweeping the land clean of all Jews, marched on the settlement. The homes of the Jews were destroyed by fire, but not before their most precious possessions, the scrolls, had been safely stowed away in the caves, to be found 20 centuries later.
The first cave, entered by the shepherd lad, contained one of the most valuable scrolls of all, a complete roll of the book of Isaiah. Experts have dated it to 100 BC. What is particularly significant about this find is that previously the oldest known copy of the book of Isaiah was dated to 900 AD. This may strike you as surprising, since there are copies of New Testament books going back to the 3rd century AD. The difference may be explained by the reverence of the Jews for their scriptures. When an old copy of a book wore out, it was not just thrown out as rubbish, but completely destroyed. So, with the discovery of a scroll of Isaiah dating to 100 BC there was a wonderful opportunity to compare two texts of Isaiah with 1,000 years of copying between them.
Well, there were undoubtedly some differences. But they were small, and in no way affected the general sense of the passages. Sometimes the older text made better sense than the later one, and cleared up phrases that had puzzled translators. For example, in Isaiah 21:7 a watchman has just seen chariots and horsemen galloping towards the city, carrying a message about the fall of Babylon. In verse 8, the Authorised Version (translated from the Hebrew text used before the Dead Sea Scrolls were found) reads:
“And he cried, A lion. My lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime “
Now, ‘A lion’ is a very odd thing for him to cry. It does not sound quite right. But the Isaiah scroll from the Dead Sea, by a tiny change in one letter, alters the reading to:
“Then he who saw cried out: ‘Upon a watchtower I stand, O Lord’”
which makes much better sense. Clearly a scribe at some time had miscopied a letter, and the error had then been incorporated in all later copies. But the important thing is the triviality of the difference. It is not a change affecting important doctrines about God and His way of salvation.
In fact, in 1948 the Revised Standard Version committee was busy preparing a new translation of the Old Testament (eventually published in 1952). They had just finished their version of Isaiah when the Dead Sea Scrolls became available. It was thought that they would need to completely revise their translation, in the light of the new find. However, after a careful examination of the new (but really, older) text, they made only 13 changes to their translation. And in eight of these places there was already support from other existing manuscripts for the Scroll version of the passages. So, it looks as though on the whole the copyists had done a remarkably good job.
WHAT ABOUT THE EARLY BOOKS OF THE BIBLE?
You may still be wondering about the oldest books of the Bible — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These are traditionally attributed to Moses, the great leader who shepherded the Jews from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. Were not these books handed on for generations by word of mouth, with all the possibility of error which that could involve? Could not the persons in them have been invented, or magnified into folk-heroes like Aeneas the Greek, or King Arthur of Camelot?
The answer to this question revolves round the technology of writing. From excavations in the Middle East at several sites, but particularly Ur of the Chaldeans where Abraham lived, it is clear that men learned to write very early in the history of the world. In Mesopotamia, where the world’s first big cities were built, messages were written on small tablets of soft clay. The tablets became hard, and in this form survived more than 40 centuries, so that they can still be deciphered and read. This is fortunate, because our modern writing paper or computer discs would have perished and been lost to posterity.
At Nuzi, near the River Tigris, American Professor Chiera found about 20,000 clay documents dating back to the 15th century BC. These were particularly interesting because they were ‘business’ documents. They include contracts for the supply of goods, transfers of property, adoption of children, and marriages. These are all important social and commercial transactions. We would still keep a permanent record of them today. The laws and customs they describe match exactly those described in the book of Genesis. Yet the same customs would have been obsolete and quite alien to the culture of Israel in the land of Canaan at a later date.
For example, Abraham’s wife was childless. He was obliged, as things stood, to leave his inheritance to his chief steward, Eliezer. His wife then asked him to take her maidservant for a concubine. A son, Ishmael, was born, who became Abraham’s heir instead of Eliezer. But after many years, Sarah herself conceived and bore a son called Isaac. Because he was the son of the true wife, he now became Abraham’s heir, and Ishmael was ‘demoted’. This arrangement mirrors exactly the inheritance laws illustrated in the Nuzi tablets.
Now, we remember that the book of Genesis records how Abraham came from Mesopotamia, but left at God’s command to travel 1,200 miles to the land of Caanan. We can understand that he would follow the customs of his homeland. But how unlikely, even impossible, that Moses, writing half a millennium later, could invent so authentic a background to his biography of Abraham!
In fact, Moses may well have copied the early chapters of Genesis from existing written records. There is some evidence of this in the periodic indicators (called codicils) in the Bible text. These codicils resemble those used as standard end-of-tablet markers in clay tablets from Mesopotamia. You can find them, for example, in Genesis 2:4 (“These are the generations of …”), and in 5:1, 6:9, 10:1 and so on up to 37:2). There are also places where Moses has obviously edited an earlier text. He will add a contemporary name for a place which had a different name in the original record (for example, Genesis 14:2,3). Writing was commonplace in Egypt, where Moses was educated at Pharaoh’s court, and the law of God which He gave Israel on Mount Sinai was undoubtedly preserved in a book (see Deuteronomy 30:10 and 31:26).
In summary then, we can say there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the Bible text as we have it today. God is here speaking to us of Himself, of matters of life and death, and He has made sure that we can read the truth. There have been errors in transmission, but not one that has come to light has been at all important. We can have every confidence that, in the words of the apostle Paul:
“…from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
The sacred writings contain the undiluted truth, and through them we can find eternal life.
THE BIBLE AS PROPHECY
THE MESSIANIC PSALMS
Jesus was dying. Crucifixion was one of the cruellest punishments that the ingenuity of wicked men could devise, and the pain was unbearable. Iron nails had been driven through his hands and feet. His clothes had been taken away, and shared amongst the squad of Roman soldiers on guard below the cross. Already they had gambled over who would keep his robe, too valuable to spoil by tearing it into four. His disciples had nearly all deserted him, frightened that they too might be arrested. The end was near.
But what hurt more than the physical pain was the taunting of his enemies, the rulers of the Jews. Gathered around the hill where he was strung up like a criminal, they shouted up at him:
“Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe!” (Mark 15:32)
Through failing eyes, he saw them as a circle of hostile faces and gaping mouths.
Now, have you ever considered the fact, repeated frequently in the gospels, that Jesus predicted quite early on in his ministry that he was going to die in this agonising way? His disciples rejected the thought. They expected him to be crowned as the King of Israel. But he was adamant:
“saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22).
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23).
How was Jesus so sure he was going to be crucified? It was certainly not the popular Jewish view of the Messiah, that he should come to such a ghastly end.
The answer is that in this respect, as in many others, he had an intimate knowledge of the Old Testament. He knew his work as the Saviour of men had been mapped out there, right from the remarkable coincidence of his birth in Bethlehem, to his death, resurrection, and eventual return to reign in glory.
It is the details of the crucifixion which are so astounding. If you have a Bible handy, turn to Psalm 22. This chapter was written beyond any argument at least 500 and more likely 1,000 years before Jesus was born, and the author lived in a society where crucifixion as a form of capital punishment was unknown.
The correspondence with Christ’s death is quite remarkable.
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me. They have pierced my hands and feet.” (vv 14-16)
The taunting of the rulers is described:
“All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me, they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (vv 7-8).
We even have the gambling of the soldiers:
‘’…they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (v18).
Think hard about the implications of these words. How could the Psalmist, centuries beforehand, know anything at all about the intimate details of the crucifixion? There is not really much choice in the answer to that question. The Psalmist foresaw what would happen because God knew what would happen, and He made sure that was what the Psalmist wrote. Or, as Peter puts it in his second epistle:
“…men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
The ‘Messianic’ Psalms (those predicting the work of the Messiah, the Saviour King of Israel) are only one small portion of the amazing Scripture prophecies that can be proved to have come to pass. And that is our third and most exciting line of evidence that the Bible is true. Only a supernatural Being could have inspired these predictions. Listen to what God says of Himself:
“I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare: before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” (Isaiah 42:8-9).
Indeed, the great leader Moses laid down the test of a true prophet of the Lord:
“…when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:22).
Look now at some more examples of how true prophets of the Lord were able to conquer time with their prophecies.
JEREMIAH’S SEVENTY YEARS
We read in an earlier chapter about Jeremiah, contemporary with Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Jeremiah told his fellow Jews they were going to be conquered by the Babylonians. Since the probability of such an event was already quite high, it is not surprising he turned out to be right. But he also predicted that the domination of Babylon would last only 70 years:
“…these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity declares the LORD, making the land an everlasting waste.” (Jeremiah 25:11-12).
That was most unlikely. Empires covering thousands of square miles like Nebuchadnezzar’s usually have more staying power than that. The previous empire, Assyria, had lasted 400 years before it came to an end in 612 BC.
Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon when his father died in 605 BC. His military conquests carried Babylon to heights of splendour. Yet in 539 BC his empire collapsed before Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians. Never again did Babylon figure in world politics.
So, Jeremiah was right. But where did he get his information from? Make a comparison with today’s computer models of world resources and population. These models compare existing economic data — statistics about food, fertilisers, fuel reserves and birth rates – and try to extrapolate into the future. They do not even guess at political events, such as the outcome of future wars and revolutions. But with even the simplest analysis, the figures often prove to be wildly inaccurate.
Jeremiah did not have a computer. Yet with absolute conviction he was able to reassure the people of Judah that even though they were going to be deported, they would come back to their homeland when the 70 years were over. It is worth emphasising the implication behind Jeremiah’s prophecy: that God not only knows what is going to happen, but can alter the course of history to make it happen.
” ‘I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 25:12)
We have an important aspect of Bible teaching here. God is saying that He acts as a judge over the history of nations. He even decides how long an empire may be allowed to prosper. The apostle Paul puts it like this in the New Testament:
“And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26).
He determines ‘the allotted periods’ – how long they should continue, and ‘the boundaries’ – the limits of their territorial expansion.
We must now look at another prophecy which illustrates this concept, and which is also connected with the king of Babylon. Our prophet this time is Daniel. Daniel was carried away captive from Jerusalem along with Jehoiakim, the first king of Judah deported by Nebuchadnezzar. Considered a promising young man, he was sent to study the learning of the Babylonians. He soon worked his way up into a top position in the Babylonian civil service, where the king found his judgment and wisdom invaluable.
One of the features of Babylonian culture which stands out, both in the Bible and in the archives at Babylon itself, is their preoccupation with astrology and with dreams. Some of their interpretations of the meaning of dreams sound like modern psychology. The Babylonians were highly superstitious.
One morning (the incident is recorded in Daniel chapter two) the monarch woke up with a furrowed brow. He had had a most impressive dream during the night, but did not know what it meant. He insisted that his team of dream-interpreters should first tell him his dream, in all its details, and then identify its significance.
This somewhat unreasonable request left them floundering. They were happy to interpret a dream, once described, but to reveal the dream itself was beyond them. The king’s temper was rising, and the situation was becoming critical, when Daniel, the prophet of the God of Israel, came to the rescue. He assured the king that it was Israel’s God who had given the dream, and with the help of his God, he, Daniel, could give the interpretation.
He informed the king that the dream had been about a huge image, constructed of four metals: a head of gold, chest of silver, waist and thighs of brass, and the legs of iron. The feet were a mixture of iron and clay. But the striking thing was his interpretation.
The head, he said, stood for Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar’s own empire. The chest represented another empire, which would follow, and the waist and thighs “…yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth” (v39). The iron legs stood for a fourth kingdom, “strong as iron” (v40). Finally, the feet and toes stood for a period when “it shall be a divided kingdom” (v41) — unstable, not sticking together, partly strong and partly broken.
Just think of the staggering implications of such a prophecy. Daniel was unfolding the course of history for the next 2,500 years, just as it has, in fact, developed! There were three more great empires following Nebuchadnezzar’s. The Medo-Persian empire took over at the fall of Babylon. Alexander the Great’s Grecian empire followed. Then came the mighty and long-lived Roman empire, which finally expired with the fall, first of Rome and later of Constantinople. But since the fall of the Roman empire, exactly as Daniel predicted there has been no one kingdom ruling over all the civilised world.
Again, we must ask, how could Daniel possibly have known what would happen! How could he even have guessed that there would be three more world empires, and then a divided world? And again, the only reasonable answer can be, that as Daniel said:
“A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure” (v45)
Before we leave this subject, we must mention the end of the dream, because it leads on into the serious question of where we fit in, and what is going to happen in our tomorrow. The last thing the king saw in his dream, was a great stone, “cut out by no human hand” (v34). This stone flew through the air to strike the image on its feet, and as it toppled, ground it to powder. Finally, the stone swelled, bigger and bigger, until it filled the whole earth. What was the interpretation of this grand finale to the dream!
We must quote Daniel in full:
“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed: nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever” (v44).
Here in a nutshell, we have the only hope for man. We live in the time of the feet of iron and clay, when the world is divided. But the dream goes on, beyond our day, to the last great kingdom, which will unify the earth. It will be the kingdom of the God of heaven, which will destroy and then replace the empires of men. With the New Testament in hand, we can identify the stone which smashed the image—the Lord Jesus Christ. In his own memorable words, he promised to come back from heaven, to set up the Kingdom of God.
“.. there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity . . . then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory . . . when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Luke 21:25,27,31).
So, as we saw before, God not only knows the future, but controls it. He has fixed a day when the earth will be made ready for the reign of his illustrious Son. Then at last it will be true, as the book of Revelation puts it, that
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
Many Bible prophecies have already come true. But the greatest news it has for us is that there is still time, before the end of the kingdoms of men, to put our names down for the Kingdom of God. By believing in Jesus, and being baptised for the forgiveness of sins, we can hope to share with the King in his throne of glory.
GOD SPEAKS TODAY THROUGH THE BIBLE
We have now come to the end of our short review. The oldest book in your house, surviving intact and unimpaired through the voyage of time, turns out to be vibrant with truth. There is enough evidence in it to set you thinking about its claims. Perhaps now you are less willing to swallow unquestioningly the pronouncements of the critics. But to benefit from it, you need to start reading it for yourself, and try out its instructions.
There is a beautiful verse in the Psalms which reads:
“O taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!”
What David meant is that you cannot truly convince yourself about the goodness and power of the God of the Bible until you try putting your trust in Him. You can work out in a logical and mathematical way that you ought to do something, but you can only be sure you were right after you have started. It is very like learning to swim. Enviously you watch your friends in the pool, racing to and fro, and you can see the water really does bear people up. But until you lean forward and lift your feet off the bottom yourself, you are only half convinced.
The Bible grows on you. As you read it through, from the foundations of the world in Genesis to the story of Israel and the coming of Christ, you traverse centuries of time, but the message is the same. Human sin, pride, greed, selfishness and envy have brought suffering into the world. God’s plan is to put things to rights. Slowly and steadily, through believing men and women, each of whose lives had ups and downs like ours, He reveals his plan.
The Seed, the descendant promised to Eve and revealed more clearly to Abraham, David and the prophets, turns out to be God’s Son, born of Mary.
In sublime paradox, the future King of the world begins his career as a servant. He is despised and rejected by the very people who had been waiting for him to come. His death, the supreme self-denial of a sinless man, makes possible the conquest of the grave for all who believe in him.
He goes away, as the Scriptures foretold, for an interval, while the gospel spreads out to many nations. But at last, in great glory, he returns to make his throne in Jerusalem and rule the world in justice along with his resurrected friends.
There is a deep sense of rightness about the message of the Bible. It puts us in our place. At the same time, it lifts us up, and inspires us with hope and vision. It condemns our sins, then shows us how to repent of them, and form characters that will last forever.
But now we really must hand over to you. Try reading the Bible systematically, a chapter or two a day. A Bible reading planner will help you to make it a habit. Talk about it to others who have read it through before, and ask them to help you, if there are things you cannot understand. Stick to it. Dig deep. Build your foundation on a rock—on God and His Word. Then, if in time you decide to be baptised and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, you will be ready for his return, and for God’s Kingdom on the earth.
 Jeremiah 52:12-15 means the book of Jeremiah chapter 52 and verses 12 to 15.
 “vv” means “verses”, “v” means “verse”