Thursday, October 15, 2009

5) The Medes’ turning against Babylon

While Assyria was still the domineering empire, the quite mighty Medes and ascending Babylon entered a friendship and defense alliance. In 625 BCE they defeated Assyria decisively, and destroyed Niniveh the latter’s capital (according to another counting, it was destroyed in 612 BCE) – verifying Prophet Nahum’s prediction4). Roughly 80 years later, Cyrus, the King of Media and Persia, after conquering Minor Asia, defeated finally what had remained of Assyria. Now he had to face Babylon the ally of old. He could do so with the full consent of the Medes as we may gather from history, and, strikingly enough, as alluded to by Prophet Isaiah, in his prophecy, the “Burden of Babylon”. There, in chpt 13:17, we read:

“Behold, I will stir up against them [=Babylon] the Medes which shall not regard silver, and as for gold, they shall not delight in it”

This prophecy, spoken by Isaiah some 200 years earlier, foresees not only the Medes’ assault on the domineering empire, Babylon (which did not exist yet a Isaiah’s days); it even says that they, the Medes, “stirred up” by the Lord, attacked her not for the sake of booty, “silver and gold”. Their motif was different, in fact unheard of so far in history. “Stirred up” by the Lord may well mean that they were imbued with a spirit similar to that of King Cyrus the Achaemenian who himself was called by the Lord, as we saw.

Here, we ought briefly to reflect on the meanings of the terms “stirred up” by the Lord, and being “called” by Him. The latter tells us of a direct and so-to-speak personal approach from on High.4) In contrast, one can be stirred up by higher forces, and/or also through outer events as e.g. the meeting with an inspiring personality; the reading of an invigorating text; a striking disaster; etc. Cyrus was both called by the Lord; and then, after his conquest of Babylon, was stirred up by events to be dealt with later.

The stirring up of the Medes, although apparently effectuated by Cyrus’ personality, was part of the Lord’s work and invention in history. Yet, we should not think that this “stirring up” by the Lord turned the Medes docile or lenient. In history, they are known as fierce fighters. In Isaiah’s vision, they are even described as cruel: “Their bows shall dash the young men to pieces, and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eye shall not spare children” (Is. 13:18).

This depicts quite accurately the situation as it prevailed in the times before Cyrus. We saw in a previous chapter how the Medien king Astyages dealt, apparently quite routinely so, with his army’s commander, Harpagos; and we looked briefly into the day-to-day cruelties of the Assyrians and of the Massagetes as examples of what was then the norm. Then this changed with the “stirring up” of Cyrus by the Lord. While the Medes (and Persians) remained formidable fighters, they did not take to cruelties for cruelty’s sake; nor were they motivated by gold and silver. Their motivation was changed, and along therewith their behavior. Peoples, instead of being terrified, welcomed them, and opened their gates to them, as mentioned. Isaiah says to this point: “… I will loose the loins of the kings, to open before him [=Cyrus] the two-winged portals; and the gates shall not be closed” (Is. 45:1).

With this background in mind, we may see now the turning of the Medo/Persians against Babylon.

f) A summing up reflection of the Lord’s actions toward Cyrus, and lessons derived from it, gleaned from the Book of Isaiah:

· He raised Cyrus from the east – Is. 41:2,25; 45:13;

· He called Cyrus by name – Is. 45:3,4; also 48:15

· He subjugated nations under Cyrus – Is. 41:2; 45:1-3;

· He makes all paths level before Cyrus – Is. 41:3; 45:2,13;

· He makes Cyrus doing His pleasure (i.e. subduing Babylon and releasing her captives, the Jews) – Is. 44:28; 46:10; 48:10;

· Cyrus is called and supported by the Lord on behalf of Israel – 45:3,4,8,10; 48:12-14; also 44:24-26; 46:9.

In direct connection therewith, the Prophet stresses

· the vanity of the gods of the nations, apparently to emphasize that it is the Lord God of Israel who ultimately governs history (e.g. Is. 41:6,7; 45:4-6;

· the creation theme as another proof that it is the Creator of heavens and earth who is their ultimate governor (e.g. Is. 41:4; 44:26-28). Quite in line therewith is also the application of the term “my shepherd” to Cyrus (in Is. 44:28): it rebuffs the then widespread custom of local rulers to present themselves as the “beloved shepherd” (e.g.. of Enlil; of Shamash; of Marduk, to mention a few examples thereof),

With this background in mind, we may now have a look at the turning of the Medo/Persians against Babylon:

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